Episode 1. The Beginning of Wisdom
When I first started reading the Bible, it seemed to me that it was all about the things I had to give up – what I was going to lose. But what I discovered is that actually, actually God wants to bless us. His Wisdom brings blessing to our lives – as counterintuitive as it […]
When I first started reading the Bible, it seemed to me that it was all about the things I had to give up – what I was going to lose. But what I discovered is that actually, actually God wants to bless us. His Wisdom brings blessing to our lives – as counterintuitive as it may seem, when we’re sitting there wrapped up in our selfish desires.
The Fruit of Discipline
I can honestly say, as I look back on my life, that there is not a single time … not one, where I have enjoyed being disciplined. I remember as a child – I was a lively sort of a lad as you can probably image. I was into everything and inquisitive and full of beans and since I was old enough to sleep in a bed, rather than a cot, I’ve been getting up at four or five o’clock in the morning – that’s just the way I’m wired. I was never shy or retiring – I was always out there and into everything.
So it’s not surprising that growing up, I had more than my fair share of discipline – more than the odd belting when I grew up. Not that I am necessarily suggesting that’s always the best way of discipling a child. And then as a teenager and a young adult when I was studying at the Royal Military College Duntroon, to become an officer in the Australian Army, that’s where you learn what discipline is all about. And then later on in the workplace.
I can honestly say there is not a single time that I have enjoyed being disciplined. But looking back on it, without that discipline, I think I would have grown up to be a horrid person, completely unbearable. See, discipline is never fun at the time but it’s an important part of our lives.
And I think it bears some thinking about so today we are going to spend some time unpacking this whole thing of “discipline”. There’s not one of us, I suspect, who can’t think back to the time when we lived with our parents – those of us fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to grow up with our Mum and our Dad, or at least one of them. As we think back to those times what we remember is being disciplined and some of those memories are frankly, not very happy ones. I can remember how unfair discipline felt at the time – how much I hated being disciplined. Aw, man, why do things have to be like that? Why did God have to invent a world where we would have to learn by being disciplined?
Well, today we are continuing on with this series that I have called “Wisdom that Works.” And right in the next passage of the Book of Proverbs, a book of wisdom, written by a wise old King Solomon to his young sons – right in the next bit that we are up to, we get an answer to this question: Why do we need discipline? So let’s have a listen – we are looking at Proverbs chapter 6, beginning at verse 20:
My child, keep your father’s commandment, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the wife of another, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes; for a prostitute’s fee is only a loaf of bread, but the wife of another stalks a man’s very life. Can fire be carried in the bosom without burning one’s clothes? Or can one walk on hot coals without scorching the feet? So is he who sleeps with his neighbor’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. Thieves are not despised who steal only to satisfy their appetite when they are hungry. Yet if they are caught, they will pay sevenfold; they will forfeit all the goods in their house.
But he who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he shows no restraint when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation, and refuses a bribe no matter how great.
Now, the example that Solomon uses here to his sons is that of adultery. He kicks off by talking about the huge investment that he and the mother of these young men have made in them, through their commandments and their teaching and their wisdom and their reproof. And their council is to hang on to that – to bind it round their hearts, to tie it round their neck – why? Because the things that you have learned when you are young through discipline will protect you – they will watch over you, they will council you.
When we head off and we want to do something stupid like adultery – but it could be anything – it could be dishonesty or it could be dissension or back biting – it could be anything – when we want to head off in the wrong direction, the wisdom given to us by our parents will be like a lamp and a light and show things for what they are. The wisdom of our parents and, for you and me, the wisdom of God, will protect us.
Now wisdom always involves discipline – it always involves us being taught the hard way not to head off in a certain direction because that’s where we are going to get hurt. You and I, we naturally shun discipline, but have a listen to what Solomon says to his lads and what God is saying to you and me, here and now:
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the wife of another, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Did you pick that up? “… the reproof of discipline is a way of life.” – to preserve us from the consequences of wrong doing. And then, of course, Solomon goes on to lay out the horrible things that happen to a young man who commits adultery, notwithstanding the seductive nature of what’s on offer. Discipline is a way of life. Ouch!
You see, we have this idea that if we are succeeding, things should always be getting better, things should always be on the up and up and we should be getting more influence and more success and more this and more that. That’s the picture we have of life! And then all of a sudden, when things take a turn for the worse, we think to ourselves, “Oh, woe is me! Has God forsaken me? Where’s God – what’s He doing? Why is this happening to me – ME of all people – me?” Right? That’s how we want to carry on.
Come with me to the New Testament – a thousand or so years later on, after Solomon wrote the Book of Proverbs to the Letter of Hebrews chapter 12. Have a listen to what God has to say about discipline: Hebrews chapter 12, beginning at verse 7:
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later on it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
See, discipline is a way of life, as God’s way of helping us to grow. Jesus said, “Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it to make it bear more fruit.” So the next time God is disciplining you – and this is not about punishment and justice – that happened at the cross when Jesus died for us – discipline is about teaching and learning and pruning so that we will be able to bear more fruit. So the next time God is disciplining you and disciplining me, let’s remember there’s a purpose that goes way beyond our desire for comfort and convenience – that purpose is that God has a plan. And instead of flapping around, wondering what the blazes is going on here, here’s God’s advice:
Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time. So, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight the paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
In other words, don’t fight it! Go with what God is doing – don’t get your nose out of joint, instead, be healed. Now that … that’s wisdom that works!
Our Heart’s Desires
To be frank, when I first started reading God’s Word in the Bible, my expectations of that stuffy old Book were pretty low. I thought it was pretty much irrelevant – truly! And that, “Well, if I am going to call myself a Christian, well, I suppose I’ll have to pray and I’ll have to read the Bible, just one of those chores; the price you have to pay to get eternal life!” Seriously, that’s what I thought!
So the last thing I expected was to discover this vibrant, living thing – God speaking His love and His grace and His wisdom into my life, in a way – get this – in a way that actually works. In a way that radically, makes my life better. And the last thing I expected was a God who wanted to bless me and having taught me His ways, to give me the desires of my heart. But that’s exactly what I discovered.
Page after page, verse after verse, as I read it and thought about it and how it might work in my life, I met a God; a Jesus, who wants to make my life better by getting rid of the sin out of my life. The stupid things that we all want to do and they end up robbing us of life – the life He always planned for us. And then, by taking our hearts and filling them with His love and humility and showing us the depth of joy that comes from living our lives for Him – living our lives with love for other people.
My friend, let me tell you – with all that I am, that was the very last thing I expected to find. See, the funny thing is, the reason I held back my life from God for the first thirty six years of my life was that, I was afraid of what I would have to give up. I have always been pretty clever – I’m fortunate I have a quick, sharp mind, I have always been industrious and resourceful and so what I had done in my life was to take those natural talents (other people have different talents, but these were mine) and to use them for … well, to use them for me, of course.
I’d figured out that I could use them to make lots of money. I knew that because I was strong and articulate and driven, I could crash through just about any obstacle that got between me and my objective of getting the sort of career and recognition and wealth that I hungered after.
And deep, deep down I knew that if I invited God into my life to be my Lord and my Saviour, I’d have to get off my throne – I’d have to surrender that to Him! I’m not sure if I could have quite put it in those words back then but that was it. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God – I believed pretty much for most of my life, that He was out there somewhere. Yet I had this uneasy dread that one day, the day of reckoning would come.
It’s just that I duped myself into believing that my brand of evil and frankly – let’s call a spade a spade – that’s what my selfishness was – that my brand of evil was somehow, okay. It was good that I was driven; it was good that I was getting wealthy and recognised in my field and industry – it was good that I was making it. And that con job, my friend, is a con job that the devil is working out in countless people’s lives walking this earth today.
‘It’s not evil what you are doing – it’s good; it’s fine, it’s okay; it’s good that you are making it – sure, go for it. And if someone gets in your road, just roll over the top of them – squash them like a fly.’ I wonder if, perhaps, you don’t relate just a little bit to what I’m saying. This is a universal human condition. It’s the condition that God calls ‘sin’ and the worst thing is … the most dangerous thing is that we end believing that it’s okay; that it’s good.
So have a listen with me now to God’s wisdom on the difference between good and evil. It’s wisdom that shines light on this oh-so-important subject and it’s the sort of light I think, that makes us see evil for what it is. And my prayer is that it makes us desire good over evil. Let’s have a listen – Proverbs chapter 10, beginning at verse 22:
The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. Doing wrong is like sport to a fool, but wise conduct is a pleasure to a person of understanding. What the wicked dread will come upon them, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. When the tempest passes, the wicked are no more, but the righteous are established forever.
See, God being God, He always starts off by telling us about the blessing He has in store for us. God reveals Himself to us as our Father – Jesus literally called Him “Dad”. Listen to me, every dad wants to bless his children – we do! We love to bless our kids. God’s no different.
Look at verse 22 again – Proverbs chapter 10:
The blessing of the Lord makes rich and he adds no sorrow with it.
Friend, God wants to bless us and when He does, He makes us rich. I’m not talking about money – sometimes He blesses us financially – but money isn’t what makes us happy. There is something deep inside that makes us happier – a deep abiding joy; the sort I could never find when I was working out my particular brand of evil on this earth – the sort that always eluded me. I thought I’d have to give something up, by giving up my evil ways, and sure, in a sense, I did. But the reality was that the prize was that one thing I’d been looking for all my life.
I was living in the first part of this next verse without realising the blessing in the second part.
Doing wrong is like sport to a fool but wise conduct is pleasure to a person of understanding.
As I said earlier, I always had this deep dread down inside that one day this would all come unstuck – that one day something bad would happen – that one day this whole house of cards would come crashing down and that is exactly what God says is going to happen next verse:
What the wicked dread will come upon them, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.
I proved the first bit of that in my life because that’s exactly what happened – it did all come crashing down. But I’m also discovering the profound truth of the second part now that I am living my life for Him, that “…the desire of the righteous will be granted.” God grants the desires of our heart when we are living our lives for Him. Elsewhere: Psalm 37, verse 4, he tells us to:
Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
God wants to give us good things, like any father. And now the desires that I have going on in my heart – for the most part – spring out of a delight that I have in God. My point is, we all have things still to deal with – you do, I do – but more and more my desires flow from God’s desires. You know what? God is a great Dad; a fantastic Dad! I am discovering that He really does wants to bless me with His joy and His peace and His love, right in the middle of the storms of life; right in the middle of the trials and the challenges.
A lot of those haven’t gone away, in fact, the more we step out onto the spiritual battlefield, to weigh in with our lives for God on this planet earth, the more things are going to come against us; the more our enemy, the devil, is going to come against us. But in the middle of all that, God wants to bless us.
Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
That’s the point! And how does it all end – this story of life, when we either live out a life of rebellion against God or a life of honouring God – what is the end game? Proverbs chapter 10, verse 25:
When the tempest passes, the wicked are no more but the righteous are established forever.
Friend, all those years I was conned, I thought to myself, I was going to lose something; I had to give up something to serve God. What a fool I was because what I have discovered is when we do lay our lives down; when we do give everything we are and everything we have to God, WOW! The blessings of the Father, God in heaven, flow in our lives and they make us rich and He adds no sorrow with it. That’s who God is! That’s the wisdom of God – lay down your life and you will find it. Try and hang on to it and you will lose it.
Back to the Beginning
Well, over these last four weeks – isn’t it amazing how much wisdom there is in God’s Word, as we have stepped through the Book of Proverbs in this series that I’ve called, “Wisdom that Works”? But we have only stepped through just a few chapters – there is so much more there. And that’s the thing – people sometimes ask me – they say, “Berni, you produce hundreds of episodes of your radio programmes every year and you write books and all that stuff, don’t you ever run out of ideas; don’t you ever run out of fresh content?” And my answer to that is a huge NO! Absolutely not! If I get to do this every day for another hundred years, I’ll still only have scratched the surface of God’s wisdom.
Is that because it’s big and complicated, so that you need a PhD in Theology to understand it? No! God’s Word is actually simple, practical and straight forward. It’s just that, well, I’m such a slow learner – I need to feast on God’s Word every day. And little by little He changes me. And you know, the more time I spend in God’s Word each day, the less of it I read. Now, that sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? Let me explain.
I used to try and plough through several chapters each day as though somehow, it was a race to see who could get to the end first. But then I stumbled on a passage written by Paul the Apostle. He was old and experienced and much wiser for it, writing to his young ministry protégé Timothy. This is what he said. First Timothy chapter 2, verse 7:
Think over what I say for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.
In other words, stop and think over what is in God’s Word. That’s when it makes a difference. I had a young listener email me recently and she said, ‘I have a problem – I am trying to read my Bible but by lunch time I can’t remember what I read this morning.’ So I said to her, ‘I had that problem too so what I started doing was reading less – not less often, but less in volume. And I started thinking and praying about it more. See, that’s when it came together for me. God’s wisdom is so powerful! But just like good food, we need to chew it over and swallow it for it to do us any good.
So I encourage you to do that – to take His wisdom, chew it over, think about it and then, in prayer, swallow it. Let the Spirit of God write it on your heart – that’s when it becomes part of us. And over a decade and a half of doing that I can honestly say that God’s Word has become part of the fabric; the essence of who I am. That’s what transforms us – that’s how His wisdom starts working in our lives. We take it in little by little and the old maxim is true, we discover that “we are what we eat”.
And the place where I think is the best place for us to draw this four week series to a close, is the place where we began four weeks ago. Proverbs chapter 9, verse 10:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
If we read this stuff with a proud heart; if we are full of pride that we know better and we should be able to hang on to our own attitudes and our own sin– my friend, that is so often how we at first come to God’s Word. So often! If that’s how we approach God’s Word it will profit us nothing! The beginning of wisdom; the starting point is the fear of the Lord. The beginning of wisdom isn’t a hard, prideful, puffed up, a “full of myself” heart.
The beginning of wisdom is a humble heart, a soft heart, a teachable heart, a heart that knows that without God it is poor, wretched, feeble and naked. A heart that seeks first to honour God, that’s the place, my friend, where wisdom begins. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – nothing else!
And unless and until we are ready to humble ourselves at God’s feet; unless we are ready to say, “Lord, I know I have been trying it on my own; I know I have been doing all this stuff; I know it doesn’t work. Lord, I am going to lay my way down. I am going to lay my life down at Your feet. I am going to lay my pride and crucify it and lay it down.” Unless we go that way then we are not demonstrating the fear of the Lord. And without the fear of the Lord our heart is hard and the wisdom can’t get in.
That’s sad, because without God’s wisdom; without His wisdom – let me tell you because I have been there, without His wisdom, frankly, it’s a lousy life.
My friend, I am going to bring you back to this verse – Proverbs chapter 9, verse 10 and ask you to consider in your heart where you are at.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
May the Lord soften your heart and open your heart and pour His wisdom and His love and His power and His grace into you.