Part VI – The Art of Wise Living (Proverbs)
Sermon Title: Part VI – The Art of Wise Living- “The Time Has Come…”
Good News Statement: God instructs us in wisdom but we still have the choice
Do we follow the path of wisdom or the path of folly?
Preached: Sunday, November 14, 2021 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (NRSV): Proverbs 4:10-15- Today’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Proverbs chapter four verses ten thru fifteen. Listen to the wise words of King Solomon:
Admonition to Keep to the Right Path
10 Hear, my child, and accept my words,
that the years of your life may be many.
11 I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered;
and if you run, you will not stumble.
13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
What comes to mind when you think about God? Is God a thing? Is God a person, a being? Is God something that only exists on Sunday mornings? Is God all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), all-good (omnibenevolent), or all-present (omnipresent)? Is God loving or is God wrathful? Is God cloaked with money? Is God the person who works on street corners and has no address? Is God the one in a hospital bed who is crying out in pain or is God the one who answers that cry of pain? Is God a combination of all these things? Who or what is God to you?
If you were asked to define God in one word, what would you say?
King Solomon, in his 3,000 plus proverbs, asks us approximately 70 times which path we want to take in life. We can either choose the path of wisdom or we can choose the path of folly. What is remarkable about this question is what is embedded in its meaning. King Solomon is asking, “Who is your God? Who do you want to follow?” Do you want follow a God who favors the poor, who is trusting, and resembles a true friend? Or do you want to follow a God who is a fool, a scoffer, and who is naïve? Who is your God? And who do you want to follow?
Let us pray… Dear Heavenly, the time has come for us to make a decision: do we follow the path of wisdom or do we follow the path of folly. Lord, allow your message today to encourage all of us to find the path of wisdom. 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.
Over the span of what seems like forever, we have been gaining instruction, knowledge, and understanding of what it takes to walk down the path of wisdom. We began this journey by realizing that proverbs—which are short sayings that provide some sort of instruction—are found in everything that we do; and this is highlighted in the Book of Proverbs. King Solomon notes that as we read his proverbs we will encounter wisdom and folly, justice and vengeance, wealth and poverty, pride and humility, work and laziness, friends and neighbors, love and lust, anger and strife, and life and death. We will encounter things that help us live well and wisely in God’s world. But, we also encountered what it takes to stray away from God.
We learned that if we trust in the LORD with our whole heart, we will be blessed—we will receive eh’sher from God. Proverbs 3:13 reads, “Blessed are those who find wisdom and those who get understanding…” When we trust in God with our whole heart, our steps are guided towards the path of wisdom and we seek those who deserve to be blessed (Matthew 5:1-12).
Speaking of steps, in order to gain wisdom, we must realize that it is our LORD that directs our steps. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The human mind plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps.” We must be willing to set aside our own plans so that the plans of God can guide us towards wisdom and righteousness and away from the lazy and unjust. But sometimes in life it is hard to set aside our own plans. Sometimes in life we need some assistance. This is where King Solomon’s understanding of a “true friend” comes into play.
After learning about God’s plans verses our own plans, we engaged in conversation with what a “true friend” is and does. Within the many verses that describe a “true friend,” King Solomon notes in Proverbs 17:17 “A true friend loves at all times,” and in Proverbs 18:24, “A true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” A “true friend” is one who offers acceptance, forgiveness, love, support, and is loyal. Additionally, a “true friend” fulfills the words of Randy Newman’s theme song for the Toy Story saga, “You’ve got a friend in me; You’ve got a friend in me. You got troubles, I’ve got ’em too. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. We stick together and see it through. ‘Cause you’ve got a friend in me. You’ve got a friend in me.”
From instruction to trust, from trust to directed footsteps, from directed footsteps to true friends, we encountered an obstacle along the path of wisdom. We encountered F.E.A.R. Fear is something that we all live with: we either run from it or we rise against it. I’m sorry to say this, but each of you will encounter fear on the path of wisdom. I’m not talking about fearing the Lord. Instead, I’m talking about something that terrifies your very soul, which rattles your bones. But you will also encounter the strength to overcome that fear because God is walking beside you. If God can make dry bones live again, then we can certainly live again and gain the life that is needed to keep walking on the path of wisdom. However, we must be willing to keep our trust in Him.
When we encounter fears in our life, certain words may escape from our mouth causing us to remember what James says in chapter one, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19; Proverbs 14:29). The same mouth that blesses the Lord, is the same mouth that destroys our neighbors (James 3:5-10; Proverbs 11:9). As Christians, we must pause before we speak; and we must take note that if we change our words our hearts will also change. To practice this, I invite you to turn to your neighbor and repeat after me, “I’m sorry; You are awesome; Thank you; and I love you.”
Everything that we have learned up until this point, all leads to what we read earlier. King Solomon notes, “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in paths of uprightness [or righteousness]. When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble” (Proverbs 4:11-12). If you choose to walk the path of wisdom, the very path that King Solomon has prepared for you, then you will not stumble and fall. As a matter of fact, you will fulfill the promise of the Prophet Isaiah: you will renew your strength, you will mount up with wings like eagles, you will run and not be weary, and you will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31). You will become the best versions of yourself, if you choose the path of wisdom, because He will be there with you. Even when you grow weary, God will be there. Even when you feel like giving up, God will be there. Even when the fool controls your mind, God will be there guiding your heart.
Just like the blind man in the Gospel of Mark chapter eight and ten, God will be there uncovering our eyes so that we can see the true path of wisdom. The very path that calls us to say “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statues, and I will observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psalm 119:33-35). When we choose the path of wisdom, we will not stumble nor will our steps be hampered; instead, our lives will be renewed in such a way that gives us strength to pursue the ways of the righteous as the mud is removed from our eyes.
When we gain the strength to pursue righteousness, we must keep hold of its instructions. Proverbs 4:13 notes, “Keep hold of instructions; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” Wisdom is our life. We must guard her, protect her, and keep hold of her. When we guard Wisdom, Wisdom guards us: “Do not forsake her,” Solomon states, “and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you” (Proverbs 4:6). Some of the best advice King Solomon gives appears right here in chapter four. Solomon says in verse 5, “Get wisdom; get insight….” And then in verse 7, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.” When you get wisdom and when you get insight, don’t let them go. Protect them and guard them as if they are life themselves. King Solomon is encouraging us that the minute we accept the path of wisdom, we must not turn away from it. If we turn away, we will find the path of folly. Once we get it, we must not let go.
King Solomon warns us in Proverbs 4:14-17 that the path of folly is something that we should avoid at all costs. Solomon notes, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence” (Proverbs 4:14-17). The path of folly is a restless life that seeks rest beyond anything else. This is why King Solomon boldly asserts in Proverbs 20:13, “Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty….”
If you choose the path of folly, you will be restless and when you sleep you will become too lazy to do anything; therefore, making life harder than what it was before. If you choose the path of folly, you will stumble over your own feet: you won’t have the strength of the LORD to keep going. If you choose the path of folly, you will eat the bread of the wicked and drink the wine of the violent (see Proverbs 23:29-35). If you choose the path of folly, you will find yourself in “deep darkness” (Proverbs 4:19). Is that what you want for your life? Do you want to walk down the path of folly? Or do you want to be on the path of wisdom which is like the “light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day?” (Proverbs 4:18). The choice is yours…
As you make your decision, listen to the words of John Wesley, the founding father of Methodism. In April 1742, John Wesley preached a sermon titled “Awake, thou that Sleepest” based upon Ephesians 5:14. In his sermon Wesley proclaims, “Awake, awake! Stand up this moment, lest thou ‘drink at the Lord’s hand the cup of his fury.’ Stir up thyself to lay hold on the Lord, the Lord thy Righteousness, mighty to save!” He continues, “O may the Angel of the Lord come upon thee, and the light shine into thy prison! And mayest thou feel the stroke of an Almighty Hand, raising thee, with, ‘Arise up quickly, gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals, cast thy garment about thee, and follow Me.’” Wesley is encouraging us to follow the Lord; to wake up and to bind our sandals, to walk on the path of wisdom. We must wake up. We must set aside our foolish ways. We must “gird thyself” for the journey that awaits for us in Christ. As Michael W. Smith lyrically articulated, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord…I want to see you.” I want to rise up.
“To get wisdom is to love oneself….” (Proverbs 19:8). “Those who keep the commandment will live….” (Proverbs 19:16). Those who want to live will gain a “cheerful heart” (Proverbs 12:25; 17:22). The path of wisdom is where we wake up; it’s where we begin to love ourselves as Christ loves us; and it’s where we live with a cheerful heart. The path of wisdom is also where we listen to instruction, gain understanding, experience the ability to trust in God with our whole heart, build true friendships, wake up and bind our sandals, avoid using harsh words, and it’s where we allow God to direct our footsteps. The path of wisdom is where we see again as we soar on wings like eagles. The path of wisdom is our path towards God, the Almighty Righteous, who brings us back to life.
Do you remember what I asked you at the beginning of this message? I asked you, “What comes to mind when you think about God?” So after learning what it takes to stay on the path of wisdom, has your answer changed? Has your heart changed? As Barbara Brown Taylor notes in The Practices of Christian Preaching, “It is a matter of learning to see the world, each other, and ourselves as God sees…” (Jared E. Alcantara, 168). In order to see the world that God created, we must open our eyes, follow the path of wisdom, and allow God to change our heart.
King Solomon challenges us approximately 70 times to check ourselves, to make sure our heart is on the path of wisdom, and to make sure our vision of God aligns with what we believe. King Solomon closes Proverbs 4 by explaining what we need to do to stay on the path of wisdom once we get it: He says, “My child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you” (Proverbs 4:20-25). Even with all this wisdom, the choice is still yours. Do you want to follow the path of wisdom or do you want to follow the path of folly? Which direction are your eyes gazing towards?
Let us Pray…Dear Heavenly Father, you have given us the knowledge, instruction, and understanding to follow your path of wisdom. The time has come for us to choose: is it wisdom or is it folly. Help us to wake up, to find true friends, to trust you, to say the right words, and to follow in your footsteps. Lord, guide us towards wisdom and away from folly. In your name we pray, Amen.
As you continue to decide which path you want to follow, remember who God is and remember how you define God is what you need most in your life. And what you need most in your life waits for you on the path of wisdom. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, go in peace as you live wisely and well in God’s world. Amen.