My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart,  for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.  This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.  Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;  then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.  My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke,  because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.  Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,  for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.  She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.  Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.  Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.  She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.  By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;  by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.  My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion;  they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.  Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.  When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,  for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.  Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—when you already have it with you.  Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you.  Do not accuse anyone for no reason—when they have done you no harm.  Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.  For the Lord detests the perverse but takes the upright into his confidence.  The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.  He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.  The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame.Proverbs 3:1-35
What follows is a sermon I preached at Connect Southwater Community Church on 20th June 2021. Scroll to the bottom for an audio recording.
“Could I have the next slide please.”
No, don’t worry, I’m not going to bombard you with PowerPoint, but I am amazed at how that phrase has become part of life in pandemic Britain.
Whether it’s Chris Whitty, Patrick Valance, Jenny Harries, or Jonathan Van Tamm, we must have heard that phrase dozens and dozens of times over the last eighteen months at the Downing Street Press Conferences.
These prominent doctors have become well known to us all as we live through a global pandemic.
They have become a great source of wisdom for us, and for the government.
But I wonder where you turn for wisdom? Perhaps to relatives? Or maybe to a wise friend? Or maybe you turn to God’s word?
Today we’ll take a look at wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and look at some of the key characteristics of wisdom. We’ll do this by reflecting on three key points: wisdom is valuable, wisdom improves life, and wisdom needs a response.
Firstly then, wisdom is valuable.
What’s the most valuable item in your life? How would you answer that question if I put you on the spot right now and asked you that?
My immediate response would probably be, my house. It certainly sucks up a lot of my money! If I pondered the question a little longer, I might give a different answer – probably my family, my wife and my children. It’s them that I would struggle to be without.
The writer of the book of Proverbs provides an extraordinary answer to this question. Look at verses 13 to 16.
“Blessed are those who find wisdom,” he says, “those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.”
How remarkable! Nothing you desire can compare to wisdom. Nothing! Wisdom, in this writer’s view, is more valuable than even the most precious items on our planet.
But what is this wisdom that is so valuable?
There’s no definition here, but we can get an idea of what precisely Biblical wisdom is by searching elsewhere in the Bible. In Job 28:28 we see that, “the fear of the Lord – THAT is wisdom.”
Similarly, later in Proverbs, 9:10 we read that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”
Fear in this sense means to have reverence for God, to respect him, to obey him, to submit to him, and to worship him. Having this attitude to God is to have wisdom.
And it is this that is so valuable – a reverence for God that leads us to submit our lives to him.
Maybe this sounds daunting. Maybe it sounds intimidating. Maybe living your life fearing God doesn’t sound particularly wonderful, but if we return to verse 13 of our reading, we see that the writer believes that those who find wisdom, who understand the value of submission to God, will be blessed. Blessed here, just like in the beatitudes in Jesus’ teaching on the sermon on the mount, means happiness. Happy, the writer says, are those who find wisdom and who understand the necessity of placing God first in our lives, because it leads to riches beyond our wildest dreams – those of knowing God, and being able to enjoy a relationship with him as a consequence of the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ.
The promise of forgiveness, of salvation through Jesus – this is worth more than any gold, or silver, or rubies. Knowledge of this is wisdom, and it is this to which nothing else can compare.
My children are six and four. They both love watching television – probably far too much. My sonis now of an age where he has graduated from CBeebies onto programmes for older children. He’s also worked out how to use the remote control and can work our television far better than I can! His new favourite channel is CITV because they have lots of great cartoons, he says. This means that he and Lily are far more exposed to adverts than they have previously been. As each advert comes on, either he or my daughter remark, “oh, I’d really like that!” Or, even worse, “I want one of those!” They envisage that their lives would just be so much better if mummy and daddy would only succumb and buy them this new object of desire.
But of course, most, if not all of us fall into this trap. Maybe we’re influenced by the power of television adverts. Maybe we think our lives would just be so much easier if we could buy the flashy new home appliance being demonstrated on screen. Perhaps it’s not something we’ve seen advertised. Maybe we think our lives would be so much better if we only had less stress in our lives, or had more time. Perhaps it’s a better job we hanker after – one that would reward us more fairly for the work we do, or enable us to spend more time with our family and friends.
The writer of Proverbs makes it clear in this chapter that rather than a new washing machine or a better paid job, it is wisdom that really has the potential to improve our lives.
Look at how he says our lives can be improved.
In verses 25 and 26 he says, “have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overstates the wicked, for the LORD will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.”
Probably, like me, you’ve known rather more fear than you would have liked over the last eighteen months or so. I remember last March watching the awful pictures of hospitals around the world being overwhelmed. I remember hearing how virulent coronavirus was. I remember the fear as people I knew started succumbing to this virus. I remember the fear I had as my wife,went to work in a busy A&E department, coming into contact with people with COVID every single day. I remember the genuine fear I had that this thing could wipe out my entire family.
But here in Proverbs we’re told, “have no fear of sudden disaster.”
But how can we have no fear when we find ourselves thrust into the heart of a global sudden disaster?
Precisely because wisdom improves our lives. Because if we “fear the Lord,” if we trust him, follow him, put him first in our lives, if we worship him, he will be with us.
That’s not to say that we won’t find ourselves encountering sudden disasters in our lives. It is inevitable that we will find ourselves contending with difficulties and traumas, but God will be at our side. If we place our trust in Christ, we can know his Holy Spirit working in us and through us. And our ultimate hope is for a new life in God’s new creation after our earthly bodies wither away. As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” That’s 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
Wisdom puts everything in our lives into an eternal perspective. Wisdom shows us that the troubles we encounter in this life are only light and momentary taken from an eternal perspective. Wisdom points us to an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Wisdom improves our lives by helping us to have a broader context for all that we experience in the here and now.
If we understand that, we can see in this chapter how else wisdom improves life. Let’s look at some of these ways quickly now.
Wisdom will prolong our life many years and bring us peace and prosperity. That’s there in verse 2. Wisdom encourages us to honour God with our bodies, and doing so will encourage us to live healthy lives and not abuse ourselves as others might do. The end result of this is longer life. This point is also made in verses 7 and 8. If we put God first in our lives and shun evil ways, we will be healthier and well nourished.
If we have an eternal perspective, our lives will be peaceful. If we are settled in our faith and know and trust that we are destined to have eternal life, we are less likely to experience the existential angst and stress that others without this comfort face.
Look at verses 3 and 4. If our lives are marked out by love and faithfulness, we will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man. We will have lots of good quality friendships, and the respect of others, because we are known as trustworthy, kind, loving people.
Verses 5 and 6 are particularly well known and loved by many. They make it clear that if we trust God and submit to him in all we do, our paths through our lives will be straight and focused, with a clear sense of direction, and much less meaningless meandering.
Verses 9 and 10 show us that if we give all that we have to God, he will provide us with all that we need day by day.
Finally for now, wisdom means that we will not know fear when we lie in our beds, and sleep will be sweet, according to verse 24. If we place God first in our lives, life will make much more sense to us, and we won’t be kept awake at night worrying about all of the horrible possibilities that might lie ahead. Our hope lies in eternal life with Christ, and there’s no reason, therefore, to fear what we may experience.
Wisdom is not just a philosophical concept, but something that can really make a difference to us every day.
Wisdom really does improve life.
If we want go have a better life, we need to forget all the world tells us about looking for a better job, or making more money, buying a new house. If we really want to improve our lives we need to submit in all that we do to God, to worship his son and honour him for the sacrifice that he made for us upon the cross.
A couple of weeks ago the children in my school sat exams. The expectation that they had, and their parents, and my employers, was that I would then sit down and mark these, and provide the children with feedback on how they did. A response was required from me.
Of course, I could have gathered their papers up and, at the end of the exam, just dropped them into the bin.
But what, then, would have been the point of them sitting these exams in the first place? There would have been no point at all. It would have been an entirely pointless exercise.
Wisdom, too, needs a response.
What would be the point of “fearing the Lord” if this didn’t change how we acted?
The writer of Proverbs highlights just some ways we should respond to wisdom.
Look at verse 27. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”
If we are in a position to do something to improve the lives of others, then we should grab the opportunity to do so.
It might be making ourselves available to them for a chat.
It might be helping them out when we can, supporting them practically.
It might be lending them something, or giving them something.
Ultimately it means being a presence in their lives, loving them for who they are, and helping them so see the value of wisdom, and the impact that wisdom can have in their own lives. It means being clear with them how our relationship with Christ is at the heart of all that we do, how it improves our lives and gives us hope and purpose, and how it could do the same for them too.
What’s more, we should do this now, straight away, whilst we have the chance. As the passage says, “do not say to your neighbour, “come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you” – when you already have it with you.”
The passage also instructs us in verses 29 and 30, “do not plot harm against your neighbour who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse anyone for no reason – when they have done you no harm.”
We must be positive, kind and loving in all of our interactions.
Wisdom needs a response.
And that response is, as Peter writes in his first letter, to live such good lives among the pagans [as he puts it] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Our lives, informed by wisdom, should point those around us to the life-giving gospel of Christ.
So what are the characteristics of wisdom?
In a nutshell, wisdom is valuable. Wisdom improves life. And wisdom needs a response.
How will you respond?