DOWNLOAD MP3: Proverbs 1:1-7 - School of Wisdom (Dave Bish, Frontiers Church Exeter). - version from second service.
“the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy.”
(Alfred Poirier, The Cross & Criticism)
Imagine yourself standing in front of a crowd. Think a bigger than here – thousands. And you’re on stage. You walk out and open your mouth to sing a song. Three minutes later you’ve finished, the crowd goes quiet and the spotlight falls on four people sat at the front. Only the one sat on the far right, from where you’re standing matters. What will Simon Cowell have to say about you? Knowing my lack of talent – despite being married to a singing teacher it’d be: Look, “I think you just killed my favourite song of all time. Not in a billion years. It was dreadful, really dreadful, I’m saying that to be kind…” Or: “Terrible, a complete and utter nightmare”
It’s genius because of the talent and because of the talentless. We love to look on and dish out our wisdom to the hapless contestant. And we don’t just see if people have talent but whether they are wise or fools.
The talented Lucie Jones doesn’t realise how good she is, her folly is endearing. But in the talentless such ignorance is laughable. When the rejected spew back insults at the judges they simply look absurd. Think of the teenagers wanting to show that not all teens deserve an ASBO, departing with a warning “Simon, you better sleep with your eyes open” What fools!
What is wisdom then? Wisdom and folly are common enough to us. What did you do this summer? Took a Staycation – wise move. Didn’t take an umbrella? Foolish… In the absence of the promised BBQ summer, this Indian Summer is welcome though! The wise are practical people, prepared for anything. Able to live. Making do and mending, two years ago everything went in the bin and as we kept upgrading but now the wise move is to repair things. We’re in the early stages of redecorating our house. There’s something deeply satisfying about painting a wall and assembling flat-pack furniture. Such wisdom is good. But, not everything can be put back together with an Alen Key. If seven years of marriage have taught me anything its that a five point plan of action isn’t usually what my wife wants to hear. Not everything can be fixed or needs fixing’ however manly that might make me feel. This kind of wisdom doesn’t always work.
Others pursue wisdom academically. Exeter is a university city. The world is good and full of things to discover, investigate and classify. And yet the human mind cannot understand all things. We dream of an English victory in the World Cup next summer. This is beyond sense.
Could there be a wisdom beyond books and skills, one that is personal? Just as there is a wisdom that comes from Cowell, might there be a wisdom from God? The problem with receiving wisdom from a person is that though we like to give wisdom we don’t always like to receive it. If God had wisdom would we listen?
Today we begin a series in search of wisdom in a 3000 year old book by God. Granted technology has advanced in 3000 years things aren’t all that different - people are still born, educated, employed, eat, marry, sleep and die just as they did 3000 years ago. Just perhaps God could have something to say to the human condition, then and now? Perhaps our maker might make sense of life. We know the kid on stage needs to listen to Simon’s feedback. When God speaks to us, will we listen?
Listen to Proverbs 1:1-7.
But, hang on! - isn’t God opposed to us being wise? Doesn’t God say dump your brain at the door and give up on being able to live in the 21st Century? Doesn’t God want us to be stupid and unthinking? It’s true, God says: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Yet Christians say “Christ is.. the wisdom of God… revealed to us” The issue isn’t having wisdom but how you get it. Having money is fine, but we have a problem with those who steal it by robbing banks (not that they have much money at the moment) or swindling expense claims. Our first parents, Adam and Eve famously saw “a tree that was to be desired to make one wise”. Eating the forbidden fruit and “claiming to be wise, they became fools.” We’re design to be wise. But how? Let us enquire of God…
Look 1:1 – from the pen of Solomon, author of Proverbs. Just as Moses and King David have five books, so too Proverbs comes in five books. If you want to know where that goes, here’s a brief outline (count on fingers):
- Book 1 – ch1-9 has the main drama.
- Book 2-3 cover ch10-29 and paint a picture of wisdom through wise sayings, two-liner’s with contrasts and comparisons and chewy contradictions.
- Book 4 is ch30 shows how wisdom comes from the one who is in heaven.
- Book 5 concludes with the great riddle of the wise wife.
1:1. Start with Solomon, son of the great Israelite King, David. God said to David that his son will reign forever and be God’s son. Solomon is David’s son but he points beyond himself to great David’s greater son, who we meet in the first page of the New Testament: The book of… Jesus Christ, son of David. See Solomon, think Jesus. Jesus who said about himself: “Wisdom far greater than Solomon's is right in front of you, and you quibble over 'evidence’.” Are you listening?
1:7 “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” - That might sound like being terrified of God but that’s not quite what’s going on. Fearing the LORD is about having a right relationship with him – it’s about having esteem for him and trusting him because of who he is. Thing is, our default is to stand in defiance of God, so how can we fear the LORD?
For that matter, who is this LORD? He is the key figure in the whole Bible. The LORD is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who reveals himself primarily in the person of the Son, Jesus. Here’s how the story works in Proverbs, especially chapters 1-9: It’s the story of a father and his son. The son is called to do his fathers work and not be a sluggard. He is also taught who to marry and he takes the wise wife, “Lady Wisdom” rather than following the seductive call of “Woman Folly” A classic story of a Son who works hard and gets the girl!
Some hear this and say – I’ll work hard and get the girl. Don’t make that mistake! Proverbs isn’t spiritual self-help. Go to Amazon and get “Five Simple Steps to Emotional Healing: The Last Self Help Book You’ll Ever Need” or “Change your life in Seven Days”, to name a couple of current bestsellers on Amazon. Proverbs is a book about what Jesus has done and how he helps us in our helplessness. The son in the story of Proverbs is Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God the Father who can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. Hear what Jesus claims about himself: “Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise”. Crazy talk, unless it’s true!
Jesus isn’t a slacker, he can say about his work: It is finished. What work? His work was to come and die the death we deserved, on our behalf, and then to rise from death so we can have a new life. And he gets the girl, a beautiful bride called the church. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous? Maybe you’d even say you despise this because it’s foolish and weak? Look at 1v7. Your conclusion classifies you as a fool. Gulp! No-one likes being criticised and that’s a pretty stinging comment isn’t it! And that’s what we’re saying God says about people.
-God isn’t saying people are thick.
-God isn’t saying people have no life-skills.
-There are some very intelligent and very skilful fools in the world!
Before you come and offer to take the spade off me, I know that doesn’t actually make it better. Yet!
So what is God saying? The people God calls fools are like children who say to their parents: “My allowance isn’t enough, I’d prefer you dead so I could have everything.” Living like God is dead. God confirms this charge against humanity in the death of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. The cross is God’s most devastating critique of humanity. There, God says, this is how foolish and evil you are. God says 1v32: the complacency of fools destroys them… 1v30, because they would have none of [wisdom’s] counsel… they ‘eat the fruit of their way’. Death awaits fools unless something changes. I remember my Science Teacher, Mr Hodgson, newly qualified, he critiqued me after my mock GCSE exams, for which I’d not revised and scored a D. His critique turned me around, led me to knuckle down and get an A six months later. Sweet words wouldn’t have helped.
What does God say? He says you are this bad, worse than we imagine. And I can’t fix myself. The only way to live is to die to our sense of self-importance, die to wanting to prove we’re right and wise and agree with God’s criticism of me. A friend challenged me, for not showing an interest in others. Easy to make excuses, “I’m an introvert” or to deflect with a counter-critique! But the way to life was to agree, and be prepared to change - a work still in progress with which I still need help from Jesus and the church family. Receiving Jesus’ wisdom as v5 says is isn’t a quick-fix but the beginning of a lifetime of learning. I’m aware that giving examples of the benefit of people critiquing me might sound like permission for us to start pointing out one anothers faults. A member of our home group commented last week that its easy to hold back from bringing a contribution in worship, so he’s resolved to speak up if he’s 51% sure it’s a good idea. When it comes to critique the opposite level of caution is needed because its so easy for pride and arrogance to corrupt our words, so easy to destroy people by what we say. We’re best to hold back from offering critique to others and instead to excel at inviting it of ourselves. Asking friends, those in our homegroups to help us to grow – Saying, “where am I a fool, help me fear the LORD”.
God’s critique is never like ours. His words are always pure and intended to give us life. Seeing the wisdom of God in the message of the cross of Jesus, hearing his critique of me, I can say of myself 1v4: I’m simple or a youth. This is the way to 1v33: dwell secure… without dread of disaster, and to v4, gain prudence, knowledge and discretion. In the death of Jesus I see that “the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy.” (Poirier) You see, wisdom comes not from becoming wise but from believing in The Wisdom of God, Jesus who died for us. At the cross we learn, 1v6: to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles, even the greatest riddle in the final chapter of Proverbs. Those who fear the LORD won’t be experts in facts about Jesus, they entrust their past, present and future to Jesus, from beginning to end. To fear the LORD is to be depend on what he has done for us, to live in relationship with him and know: 14v26-27 "In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life" 19v23: "The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil".
I need to come again and again to his cross to find wisdom. Picture a coke-machine. You put a coin in, but it delivers no coke. The only remedy is to keep bashing the side until the coin drops and activates the machine. So too, the way to grow in wisdom is to have Jesus bashed into my head again and again, receiving his free gift of life. We began on Simon Cowell’s stage so let’s end there: Our natural instinct would be to put Jesus on stage and us in the judges chair. That is folly. Flip it around so that we’re on stage, and he’s in the chair. He speaks with devastating critique but rather than condemning us by saying “Just leave” if we entrust ourselves to him, and ask to enrol in his school of wisdom he will say “yes”.