Episode 1. The Beginning of Wisdom
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Most of us intuitively know that wisdom’s a good thing. Some times we’re full of it – wisdom that is … and sometimes, we’re full of ourselves and that’s when we come unstuck. So …
Most of us intuitively know that wisdom’s a good thing. Some times we’re full of it – wisdom that is … and sometimes, we’re full of ourselves and that’s when we come unstuck. So – where do we find the sort of wisdom that really makes a difference?
Wisdom Starts Here
Hey, it’s fantastic to be with you again this week. How quickly the weeks roll on by! And today I am really excited because we are kicking off a brand new series of messages called “Wisdom that Works”. Now, I don’t know about you but I have done some pretty silly things in my life. We all make mistakes and the thing is that the mistakes have consequences.
Sometimes those consequences are mildly annoying but other times, they are devastating. Sometimes we don’t even notice some of the silly things that we’re doing – they seem so trivial and yet we do them over and over and over and over and over again and the consequences compound and before we know it, we have a situation on our hands.
Wisdom is about avoiding mistakes so that we can avoid the consequences. Wisdom is about taking the goodness and the experiences and the knowledge that others have developed and decide to apply in our lives so that we have a better life. Fewer mistakes, fewer consequences! And it’s not just about avoiding mistakes, it’s about knowing how to handle difficult situations. It’s about knowing how to be proactive in making good things happen, rather than wallowing around in the consequences of repeated stupidities.
In fact, there is a lot to be said for wisdom – the sort of wisdom that actually works. Okay, so exactly what is wisdom? I mean, intuitively, we know that wisdom is probably a good thing and most of us wouldn’t mind having a bit more of it but have you ever stopped to think exactly what is it? Well, here’s a dictionary definition: Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement and the soundness of action or decision by applying this experience and knowledge and good judgement.
That’s not bad! You boil that down and there are two parts to that. Firstly, knowing what to do and then doing it. Knowing what to do and then not doing it is pretty dumb and that’s why I for one have done some dumb things in my life. Yes, sure, sometimes I didn’t know what the right thing was to do, so I ran into a brick wall and it hurt and I learned that that particular thing doesn’t work. Or perhaps, even better, I listened to someone else who had run into that brick wall before me and I learned from their experience.
But sometimes, you know, we know the right thing, either because we just know – I mean, I know that it’s wrong to rob a bank and I know that if I do, there are going to be some undesirable consequences – or because I have been down that road before or because I have listened to someone who has. So, sometimes we know the right thing to do – we have access to the knowledge but then we turn around and we don’t do it.
I know that drink driving is dangerous. I know that. Seen the road statistics lately? Seen the random breath testing stations on the road? Yea, so I have the knowledge, but if I get into that car, having had too much to drink and run over a pedestrian – you know, some people do that – then do I have wisdom? No, just the knowledge! For it to be wisdom you have to have the knowledge and then put it into action.
Wisdom isn’t just having the experience and the knowledge and the good judgement, wisdom is using it; acting on it; doing it; living it. Wisdom is only wisdom when it involves the knowledge and the doing. Does that make sense?
Quite a few thousand years ago, King Solomon, King of Israel, David’s son, was pretty much recognised as one of the wisest men on the planet. He had a few sons and so he decided to jot down some of that wisdom. We have access to that in the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament and over these coming four weeks we are going to spend some time ransacking this Book for wisdom – getting as much of the proverbial Wisdom of Solomon as we can, so that we can put that to work in our lives. And that’s the key: putting it to work.
I can help by unlocking the treasure chest of wisdom, I can help even by encouraging you to put it to work but only you can make it happen in your life – only I can make it happen in my life. Remember this series is called “Wisdom that Works.” Okay, where do we find that wisdom? Where do we start? Well, let’s start at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs, chapter 1 – the preamble; the introduction; the reason for wisdom. That’s what it’s all about. Proverbs chapter 1, beginning at verse 1:
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young. Let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.
Well, isn’t that what we have just been talking about? It’s about getting good wisdom into us and for it to have a good outcome. God’s wisdom – the sort of wisdom that actually works. There is plenty of wisdom out there that purports to be real but it’s fake; it’s a ‘me’ centred wisdom which will eventually come unstuck. Not a God-centred wisdom at all and that, my friends, is the starting point of wisdom – shifting our thoughts and our hearts away from the seductive slight-of-hand that passes for worldly wisdom and coming back to the source of real wisdom – the sort of wisdom that actually works.
Have a listen again to what Solomon writes about where to find wisdom that works – Proverbs chapter 1, verse 7:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
And the meaning of that word ‘fear’ in that context isn’t just fear of the consequences of God’s judgement if we are rebel against Him – and there is that and it will happen – but awe and respect and reverence. When I was a young lad, if I played up, I knew I would get a belting from my Dad – but much better to live in respect of my Dad, knowing of course, that a belting was in the offing if I mucked up – but living instead in a good respect for my father and avoiding the belting all together.
See, there are two sides to that “fear” thing and it’s when we finally decide to stick our pride in our pockets, to realise that all along, “I’ve been trying to do it my way and hey, you know what, it isn’t working so brilliantly well. It isn’t bringing me the joy and contentment and the satisfaction that I’ve been craving for.” Admitting that and saying, “You know something, God? I have been wandering out there, trying to do it my way and it’s not working. I can reject and despise Your wisdom and instruction and live with the consequences, God, or I can yield my life to You and do it Your way.”
And throughout the Book of Proverbs there is a contrast between the wise and the foolish, between good outcomes and bad outcomes. And that’s what we are going to be exploring over these coming weeks on the programme. But the starting point is here: Proverbs chapter 1, verse 7:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
And the choice is yours for your life and mine for my life. Question is: which way will we choose?
Good Friends, Bad Friends
Do you remember when you were growing up? You know when you were in those teenage years, your parents would tell you this or tell you that and we would just roll our eyes into the back of our heads, wouldn’t we? “Don’t hang out with the wrong crowd; be careful of the company you keep”. “Yeh, yeh, yeh, right, what would they know – the oldies?”
But it’s really interesting in this Old Testament Book of Proverbs – thirty one chapters, packed, verse after verse with lots of wisdom. One of the very first things that Solomon talks to his sons about, in fact, the very first thing after talking to them about where to find wisdom – which is what we chatted about earlier – the very next thing is the crowd they hang around with.
You know, maturity is an interesting thing. As we grow, we grow in our ability to discern what “good advice” is. Sometimes we reject people’s advice because it is inappropriate or self-interested but what we are about to hear is some very good advice – some stunning advice, in fact and if we put this into action then it becomes wisdom.
Now, any parent knows that if our kids keep bad company that doesn’t auger well for their future because that bad company is a bad influence and it can be terribly, terribly destructive on our kids when they are growing up. And this is what Solomon has to say to these young me – his sons – about keeping bad company. Proverbs chapter 1, beginning at verse 10. He said:
My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit. We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty. Throw in your lot amongst us; we will all have enough in the one purse”, my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood. For in vain is the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait—to kill themselves! and set an ambush—for their own lives! Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.
Okay, hopefully most of us aren’t murderers – hopefully most of us aren’t going to go and lie in wait and mug someone and rob them but we kind of do that sometimes in life, through our behaviour and our attitudes and dishonesty and aggressively looking after our own interests above other peoples’ interests. And it turns out that keeping bad company is different from being around bad people. You go to work, you go to church, you are a member of a club, you interact with people and some of them are great and some of them are fantastic – they’re wonderful to be with – and some of them are downright awful. That’s life!
When we deal with people sometimes, we have to deal with those people and everything in between. But it’s not whether we are around them or not, so much, it’s a question of influence. Let’s go back to what Solomon said – Proverbs chapter 1, verse 10:
My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent … My child, do not walk in their way; keep you foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil and they hurry to shed blood.
Look what Solomon says – he says, “Look don’t be tempted by bad company or listen to them when they say, ‘Come on, let’s gang up on someone and kill them, just for the fun of it.” It’s a question of whether we take their advice and go with them; whether we keep their company; whether we let them influence what we think, what we feel and ultimately, what we do.
Here’s the chain of events: they speak, we hear. Now, when we hear, we have a decision to make – we either accept or reject. And if we accept, it changes our behaviour and if it changes our behaviour, that has consequences – that’s the important bit. When we hear, do we accept or reject? Do we rely on them or not? Do we trust them or don’t we? Do we put our faith in them, to the extent that we let them change what we do?
It’s not that we are around bad people; it’s not even that we hear them speak – that’s not the problem. It’s when we are tempted by them and when we allow them to change what we do. It’s a question of influence. Bad company can discourage us; it can lead us to complaining; it can be disruptive; it can make us suspicious; it can make us envious; it can make us dishonest; it can make us violent. Bad company is an entry point of bad influence from other people and I have enough issues in my life to deal with without taking on bad stuff from other people.
Now, at the end of the day, all of us want to live a good life. Sure, we want to be comfortable, we want to be happy but part of that is knowing that we are living a good life – that there’s a goodness that we are reaping the fruit from and God comes to us here – this is stuff from Solomon, it’s from the Bible. And we might go, ‘Aw, come on, it’s three thousand years ago. Aw, it’s from the Bible – it’s not for me.’ Come on, this is good advice! God is giving us Fatherly advice, born out of His love because whilst bad company may entice us into action that appears to give us a quick win, ultimately that bad influence … ultimately that bad influence leads us to destruction.
Listen again to the consequences – Proverbs chapter 1, verse 17:
For in vain is the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait, ultimately to kill themselves – they set an ambush ultimately, for their own lives. Such is the end of all those who are greedy for gain – it takes away the life that it possesses.
See, they think they are ambushing the other guy through their bad deeds but in fact, they are ambushing themselves. They want to kill the other guy but their evil desires are going to destroy them. Come on, who do you hang around with? Who are the people whom you allow to influence you and are any of those ruining your life with a bad influence? Because if they are, it’s like drinking in poison from them – it’s time to do something about it.
Bad company drags us down – bad company has consequences and we are going to sit here and go, “Well, that’s a nice story from Solomon, Berni,” and we can ignore it but there will be consequences. Or we can take it on board; we can say, “You know what, this advice from God through the Book of Proverbs; from Solomon – this is great advice!” I never really thought of it that way. Do you know something: there are some changes I need to make about the people I hang around with?
The Value of Wisdom
Now, the very next thing that Solomon talks about in the Book of Proverbs, after the beginning of wisdom and the impact of bad company, is the value of wisdom. Now, why do people make investments? Why do they take their hard earned money and buy shares in a company? Well, it’s not for the fun of it so much – people make investments in order to reap a return. On the stock market, the price of a particular share goes up and it goes down, according to the market’s perception of the return that they can make on their investment in that particular company.
If the company has good prospects, the value goes up – if there are some bad returns, the value falls down. It’s the way of the world! But it’s not God’s way – God has an investment that we can make in the good times that actually pays dividends in the tough times. In fact, that’s the whole point of this particular investment.
Intuitively we all know that wisdom is a good thing – we would all like so more of it and so you have to ask yourself, why is it that we are not all as wise as we can be? Why is it that we are not full to overflowing with the Wisdom of Solomon? Well, the answer is simple – because like any investment, wisdom requires a sacrifice up front. If I invest some of my hard earned cash in this company or that company on the stock market then the point is I have to use the money that I would have spent otherwise, for that investment. I have to make a sacrifice up front.
It’s locked away – the money – and hopefully it’s locked away because it will earn me a good return. That’s the concept of investing – sacrificing now so that we can benefit later on. It’s the same with wisdom but the mistake that we can often make with wisdom is that we imagine that it’s just about having the knowledge and the experience and the principles. I mean, all those are necessary but they don’t become wisdom until we put them into action – until we live them out. That’s when we demonstrate that we have wisdom – by living it.
So, back to this question: why is it that we are not all living virtuous lives, reaping the harvest of our wisdom? Because we haven’t bought into it! And when do we buy into a company? We do it when we think there is going to be a good return. The problem for most people is that they don’t perceive a return on investment – the upfront sacrifice – when it comes to this precious commodity that they call “wisdom”.
So right now we are going to look at what accountants and economists call “ROI’s” – return on investment. So let’s dive into the Book of Proverbs; Solomon’s advice to his young sons and let’s see what it say about the ROI on our investment in wisdom. Proverbs chapter 1, beginning at verse 20:
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at you in your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me, (says wisdom,) will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.
I love the old Hebrew writings and the way they use picture language. And here we have this picture of wisdom as a person, calling out to us from the street corner in the middle of life, stretching out her hand – but everyone walks by and ignores her – they are too busy with life.
Doesn’t this just hit the nail right on the head? Earlier we looked at Solomon’s advice to his sons about the company they keep – keep bad company and they will lead you astray and it will cost you a lot of pain. That’s it in a nutshell! So times were good – his sons had a choice: listen to Dad; take his advice; turn away from the bad company or continue to hunt with that pack.
Wisdom is something that so often comes to us when the times are good. When the economy is buoyant and returns are strong – she cries out to us; she stretches out her hand – invest in me! So we have a choice – we either go and invest; we act on the advice of God’s wisdom; we live out that wisdom in the good times when it appears that we don’t actually need the wisdom; when it appears that we don’t need to make a sacrifice – we either do it then or we don’t. And the whole point of wisdom is that we need to act on it in the good times in order to reap the reward in the bad times.
Let me say that again: wisdom is the one investment we can make that delivers a dividend in the tough times. All the other investments come crashing down in the tough times but it’s the dividend of wisdom that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Listen to what Solomon said again – Proverbs chapter 1, verse 32:
For waywardness kills the simple and the complacency of fools destroys them but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease without dread of disaster.
So wisdom either helps us to avoid the bad times – as in the case of the advice about keeping bad company – or when the bad times hit, which of course, they inevitably do in life. We don’t want bad times to hit but they always do. Eventually the cycle turns and the bad times hit. And see, wisdom helps us in the bad times. It’s like putting away some savings today so that we have some spare cash on a rainy day – bad choices in the good times inevitably lead to bad outcomes and bad consequences. Wise choices however, the sacrifices that we make in living out God’s wisdom, pays dividends.
It may not lead to perfect outcomes that we always planned but wisdom pays dividends. In fact, it pays huge dividends in tough times. This is wisdom that works!
Wisdom cries out to us – God cries out to us, “Listen to Me – sacrifice the things I ask you to sacrifice and I will be with you there in the tough times; in the bad times because God’s wisdom is wisdom that works.”