Part I – The Art of Wise Living (Proverbs)
Sermon Title: Part I – The Art of Wise Living
Good News Statement: The LORD instructs us in Wisdom
Preached: Sunday, October 03, 2021 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (NRSV): Proverbs 1:1-7 – Today’s scripture reading comes from the wise words of King Solomon: Proverbs chapter one, verses one thru seven. Listen to the wisdom of the LORD:
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
3 for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—
5 let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
6 to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
A Chinese proverb states, “You won’t help new plants grow by pulling them up:” you must be patient, good things come to those who wait. In Korea, people often say, “Even in a mouse hole, the light shines:” even when things seem bad, positives can be found. Several hundred miles away, a Gaelic proverb reads “One beetle recognizes another:” it takes one to know one. Twenty-eight hours and over two-thousand Kilometers south east of Ireland, the Italians have a proverb that states, “He who has a head of wax must not walk in the sun:” know your weaknesses. A Swedish proverb reads, “Don’t let grass grow on your feet:” don’t stay in one spot for too long; keep moving and try new things in life. The Dutch pride themselves on this proverb, “Don’t take too much hay on your pitchfork:” don’t do too much all at once.” And finally, this old Egyptian proverb concerns a swimming goose: “The son of a goose is a swimmer;” children take after their parents.
This month begins our journey through the Book of Proverbs. We may not come across proverbs like those from China, Korea, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, or Egypt, but we will come across some proverbs that make us scratch our heads. For the next six or seven weeks, we are going to explore the words of King Solomon, the supposed author of Proverbs, and be asking ourselves “What path of life are we on? Are we on the path of wisdom? Or are we on the path of folly? I hope your answer is the path of wisdom; however, I understand that at some point in our lives we have found ourselves on the path of folly—laziness, greed, deceit, wrongdoings, and judgment. But hopefully, and spiritually, after taking the time to consider the words of King Solomon, we will gain a deeper motivation to trust the LORD that resides in our heart; that we will strive to live wisely and well in God’s world.
King Solomon has given us the instructions to pursue wisdom, but are we listening to what he has written? It only takes a few seconds to read a proverb, but it takes a life time to live it correctly.
Let us pray… Lord, Jesus, throughout our life you have given us the wisdom to live wisely and well in your world; but unfortunately, we may have not heard everything causing us to go on the path of folly. As we entertain our souls with the words of King Solomon, help us to become wise and filled with your message. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your name we pray, Amen.
Proverbs may well be the most practical book in the Bible, as it teaches the art of skillful living in multiple aspects of everyday life. In the Book of Proverbs we learn about wisdom and folly, justice and vengeance, wealth and poverty, pride and humility, work and laziness, friends and neighbors, love and lust, anger and strife, employers and employees, and life and death and the list could go on. The words of King Solomon are perplexing at times, radical even, yet they bring forth truth. For example, Proverbs 18:13 states, “If one gives answer before hearing, it is folly and shame.” Another example comes from Proverbs 28:13 which reminds us to not answer with anger, but to answer with compassion. A rather famous and familiar proverb from the Book of Proverbs states, “Iron sharpens iron…one person sharpens the wits of another” (Proverbs 27:17).
The proverbs of King Solomon are perplexing. However, they speak the truth. This truth is the wisdom in which God grants to those that trusts him with their whole heart (Proverbs 3:5). God’s wisdom is humanity’s proverb.
But what is a proverb? According to biblical scholar Paul E. Koptak, proverb refers to a short, clever, saying that offers some kind of wisdom, some sort of instruction. Okay, but what is wisdom then. In order to find the perfect definition of “wisdom” I resorted to Google—since the internet never lies. After simply typing “definition of wisdom,” Google found for me 444,000,000 (four-hundred and forty-four million) results for “definition of wisdom.” It’s a good thing my calendar wasn’t full!!
The first definition stated, “Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” So, wisdom requires that in order to have good judgment, I must know that good judgment is based upon my experiences and knowledge. The second definition stated, “Wisdom is the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Again, wisdom is constructed on experience, knowledge, and good judgment. The third definition simply said, “This is the real meaning of wisdom: Wisdom is the quality of being wise.” Thank you Google…to have wisdom one must be wise, who would have ever thought! Although all these definitions seem plausible, the last definition that I came across is the most relevant for our study of Proverbs. This definition stated, “Wisdom is the knowledge of God and a life lived for God.” This sounds very familiar to the purpose of Proverbs which is to live wisely and well in the world of God. We must have the knowledge of God to live wisely and as we live for God through our experiences and good judgments, we begin to live well for God. So I guess Google was telling the truth after all!
Now that we have a rough idea of what a proverb is and what wisdom is, it is time to embark into the words of King Solomon. Verse one serves as a title to the entire book of Proverbs as King Solomon is the principle author, and it is believed that he is the one who compiled all of these proverbs together into a single volume. If you remember from the First Book of Kings, Solomon is granted with great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding. 1 Kings 4:29-33 expresses,
“God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, children of Mahol; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish.
It is apparent from this wisdom that King Solomon might have been the smartest person alive at this time. (He probably would have won Jeopardy if he was given the chance!) Needless to say, with all this wisdom, though, King Solomon still had serious flaws like his father King David (1 Kings 3:3). Like us, Solomon knew the right thing to do, he just didn’t always do it. I remember as a child my mother telling me or even my siblings that we ought to do something, but then we never did it. And because of our laziness, we quickly learned to always listen to our mother. Even with flaws and laziness, we are still able to obtain wisdom from God.
In verses 2-7, Solomon states the purpose of this book, “to know wisdom and instruction.” In verse two we are introduced to the words ‘wisdom’ and ‘instruction.’ In Hebrew, wisdom is translated as Khokhmah (kha ho-kha-mah), meaning to have an applied skill or skillful living. This applied skill requires experience and knowledge and good judgment. (Just because I have seen a combine and have heard a combine, does not mean I have the knowledge and judgment to operate a combine.) This word can also be applied to life. You can become highly skilled at the art of “living well.” And Solomon goes on to give us various facets of how wisdom manifests itself in our lives in Chapters 10-29.
Next, we come across the word “instruction.” It comes from the Hebrew word, musar, which refers to corrective discipline that result in changed behavior. The idea here is not self-discipline, but rather the kind of wisdom producing discipline that comes from God himself. This is the kind of discipline that comes to us when we step outside of God’s revealed order whether it involves relationships, or money, or some area of morality. If you will submit to this discipline and learn from it, you will become wise and life will be kinder to you. (If I submit to the discipline of learning how to properly operate a combine—knowing how it functions, knowing what the controls do, knowing what to do when something goes wrong—I will become wise enough to know that a combine is more than just a machine. Through the discipline of knowing the combine, I gain the experience and good judgment to help make life easier for other people.)
Continuing in Proverbs 1:2, Solomon says, “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice, and equity…” That word translated as “discern” in verse 2 is very important. The Hebrew word behind it refers to “the learned ability to distinguish between things that differ.” At the most basic level, that involves the ability to distinguish between that which is good and that which is evil, between courses of action that are wise and those that are foolish and possibly even dangerous. This kind of discernment isn’t a universal trait; it must be taught and learned. We need to cultivate the ability to distinguish between that which is wise and that which is foolish which the ultimate concern is for the Book of Proverbs as well as for the Father that is speaking to his son in chapters one thru nine.
A person of understanding asks different questions from those who lack this dimension of wisdom. They don’t simply ask, “Is this wrong?” They also ask, “Is this wise?” And there is a world of difference between those two questions. Was it wrong to not listen to my mother? And was it wise for me to not listen to my mother? A person of understanding always wants to know whether the choice they are making passes the wisdom test. There are many things which are wrong—we are permitted to do them—but would not be wise based upon what I see ahead.
Verses 3-4 remind us that wisdom is both learned and taught. In verse 3, Solomon notes that we are “to gain instruction” and this instruction, when gained, is to help us understand righteousness, justice, and equity. It is from our experiences that we learn how to be wise. During these experiences, it is the teacher that teaches how to exhibit our shrewdness—our ability to be clever, smart, prudent, and intelligent. Through the lessons from the teacher, we gain what Proverbs 5 explains: as wise beings, we are to not only gain wisdom, but are to hear wisdom as we discern the skill—the applied skill or way of living—towards living wisely and well in God’s world.
After being taught, the wisdom in which we learned will help us understand what it is to come in the reaming chapters of Proverbs. Proverbs 1:6 articulates, “To understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles” must be the result of what we have learned. What Solomon is hinting at is the notion that the hundreds of proverbs that appear in chapters 10-29 will be filled with riddles and wise sayings; however, through discernment and understanding accompanied by the instruction and wisdom of our discipline and applied skills, we will be able to understand what the proverb is saying because we have put our trust in God. By putting our trust in God, we have come bearing the “fear of the LORD.”
In verse 7, Solomon tells us where wisdom begins. True Biblical wisdom is rooted in “the fear of God.” Our God is a righteous God. He is a just God, who rightly punishes the wicked. He is an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God, and we live in His world. It is a world of cause and effect. To this God, we owe our “reverent obedience.” With wisdom and instruction we are taught to fear the LORD—not be terrified or scared—but know that He is in control of our lives. With fear, we are to be obedient; and with obedience, we are to stray away from the path of folly and find our way down the path of living wisely and well in God’s world.
Chapter one of Proverbs sets the stage for what is to come. What is to come are hundreds of proverbs that challenge us to pick a path: a path of wisdom or the path of folly. In order to continue this journey, we must have the experience, knowledge, and good judgment to know what it means to live a life for God. The Book of Proverbs is not a book of guarantees and promises, but rather a book of probabilities and possibilities. It challenges you to think like Christ, to act wisely, and to live well in God’s world. The reality is there are two paths we can take in life: the path of wisdom or the path of folly. Both beckon us to follow their path. Which will you choose?
Closing: Transition to Holy Communion
On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, the disciples had to choose which path they wanted to take. Do they believe in what Jesus was saying: this is my body broken for you, this is my blood—the blood of the new covenant—poured out for you? Or do they go down the path of disbelief? Today, I invite you to choose the first path, the path of belief. Why? Because Jesus has a spot for you at His table. He made the ultimate sacrifice so that we would be saved and found eternally on the path of wisdom and belief. However, the choice is yours. Are you ready to sit at the table, or do you wish to sit somewhere else?
Please follow along in the Communion insert found in your pews.
This week I encourage you to continue to read the Book of Proverbs: one chapter a day. As you do so, ask yourself, “What path do I want to take: the path of wisdom or the path of folly?” In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, go in peace as you live wisely and well in God’s world. Amen, Amen, Amen.