Get Wisdom; Get Insight
Proverbs 4:1–9 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
Reformation Day (Observed) – October 28, 2018 (am)
Greetings on the beautiful fall morning, wet as it is. But not even rain can cloud the beauty of the autumn leaves changing color. Some years ago we had a snowfall before the trees had fully dropped their leaves and one of our ladies captured a picture of a small, snow-covered maple with is multi-colored leaves still present. At other times it can be in the seventies, or even eighties, after the trees have changed, but no one mistakes it for a summer day because of the fall beauty. Nothing can mute the beauty of the autumn leaves.
Nor can anything mute the beauty of the wisdom that comes from God. That has been the subject in our cross-hairs since we moved into a study of Proverbs, and there is no denying that the wisdom of God on display in this world is a conspicuous and beautiful as autumn leaves. It stands apart from the wisdom of the world because of the uniqueness of its component parts. The wisdom of God doesn’t clamor for the headlines or wave to the camera or dance in the end zone of its latest victory. Often depicted as a noble woman, heavenly wisdom just stands quietly in the midst of the chaos of human striving offering relief and guidance and peace to all who will hear her call and respond as she directs. Jam.3:17 … the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. In Proverbs 1-9, wisdom is being taught from a father to a son. Here in Lesson 5, he’s passing IT along in grandpa’s words! We can engage this wisdom in three ways.
Receiving Wisdom as a Valued Inheritance
This first way of engagement helps us understand two key things about wisdom: where it comes from, and how we lay hold of it. These are pretty important aspects of wisdom! They’re actually what we most want to know. As we’ve said, true wisdom is hard to miss when we see it in others. It’s not difficult to spot when, for instance, Solomon recommends cutting a baby in half to identify his true mother. We can all see that! But what we want to know is, where does such wisdom come from? And how do we lay hold of it? How do we gain it?
To answer the first question, wisdom is transferred from older to younger—just as foolishness is! Wisdom is handed down from one generation to the next. It is taught by those who have long been pursuing it to those who have just begun noticing it, meaning, among many other things, no one has it fully and no one lacks it fully. No one has become completely wise and no one remains a complete fool. Some expressions of wisdom are so simple and blatant that even fools practice them—avoiding certain areas of a city at night, or not drinking from bottles stored under the kitchen sink. Suggesting that someone can be so dim-witted as to miss these expressions of wisdom can reliably generate lower-shelf comedy—think Dumb and Dumber.
So, the strength of our foolishness is not measured by whether we can identify any wisdom we may have displayed at some point. The strength of our foolishness is measured by the degree to which we resist instruction from those who are older, more experienced, more gifted with insight, etc. So, foolishness is best dispelled simply by developing a teachable spirit, by cultivating humble receptivity.
Likewise, the strength of our wisdom is measured in no small part by the degree to which we’re able to teach it, to pass it along, to strengthen and equip and guide those who are younger, less experienced, less gifted with insight, just as the father is doing here with his sons.
So, we say with this father to the younger ones among us: 1 Hear… a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, 2 for [we] give you good precepts; they’re coming directly from the Word of God! [D]o not forsake [our] teaching. It will reliably sweeten your very life! (cf. 4)
To answer our second question, wisdom is received by hearing and heeding, by listening and doing, by trusting and obeying instruction. We receive wisdom through our ears and eyes and absorb it into our hearts and minds. We imbibe it! We ingest it! We drink it in and eat it up! It changes us, from the inside out. And it’s a lasting change. It rewrites our programming. It doesn’t just make us full, it makes us fat! It’s not like having a great meal in the dining room, it’s like having a great chef in the kitchen. The meals just keep on coming! Such is growth in the wisdom of God for those who are willing to hear… and be attentive to a father’s instruction (1). We receive wisdom as a valued inheritance! We go get wisdom; we go get insight (5), like it’s inherited money!
Pursuing Wisdom as a Form of Insurance
And as we accumulate these riches, we begin to pursue wisdom as a form of insurance. It stands guard over our lives, as we’ve already seen in Lessons 1-4 from father to son. Now we see it again here, in the first words this father passes along that he heard from his father: 4 … Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Life is bound up in my words, the father is saying—the grandfather said! Personifying wisdom as a woman once again, the father pleads with his sons: 6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. … 8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her.
Pursue wisdom and not only will your life be protected, but it will amount to something! It will be deserving of praise! It will be worthy of imitation, of passing along. You will have something to share with your children that’s worth passing on to your grandchildren! And it will be good for all of them! It won’t lose its value, but will keep on appreciating in worth!
What we’ve seen before about wisdom in Proverbs is that the protection it offers doesn’t so much lengthen our life as it preserves us from things that hasten our death. Same here. Wisdom is life, yes. But more than that, it is abundant life (Joh.10:10. It is life the way life should be lived, the way it’s meant to be lived. Wisdom recognizes that true living is not thrill-seeking but joy-seeking. And joy accumulates by engaging not in death-defying antics but in life-affirming actions. Wisdom celebrates significant events with social gatherings more than sky-diving (not that there’s anything wrong with the latter)! Wisdom break the speed-limit to save a life but not to satisfy a dare, or to hide a lack of discipline. Wisdom is willing to head home from a camping trip when the temperature drops and the wind rises. It stops talking when a needless argument is arising, and it starts talking when a moral principle is eroding. Wisdom stands guard over our lives like a spiritual life-insurance policy.
Embracing Wisdom as a Romantic Involvement
And so we embrace it as though it were the unrivaled object of our romantic love. It is not enough to do wise things; one must love wisdom (Fox 174). But the practical question again arises: how do we do that? Even though this lesson is brief, there’s a repeated emphasis here in the middle: Get wisdom (5). Keep wisdom and she’ll reward you (6). Get wisdom (7). Keep wisdom and she’ll reward you (8) (Fox 175). And at the beginning of the repeat (7), we have an introduction: 7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, likely meaning: step one in (getting) wisdom is, get wisdom. This sounds absurd. But, assuming that the heart of Lesson 5 is not absurd, what the father is likely doing is drawing a distinction between the content of wisdom and wisdom itself. In other words: the first step toward becoming a wise man is to imbibe the teachings, even before understanding and applying them. The possession of this knowledge is not yet fully wisdom, but it will start you on the way to the intelligence and [sound judgment] in thought and action (Fox 175) that will develop into wisdom.
This is the get-to-know-you part of the relationship. This is when you’re learning work schedules and birthdays, favorite colors and coffee shops, sibling names and the circles of friends—the essential components of a meaningful relationship, but not the core qualities of intimacy. That will come as life is shared with this one you’re getting to know, as you begin to prize her highly (8), then to enjoy the rich rewards that come along with a genuinely deepening love. Pretty soon you’re spending all your spare time with her, and you’re thinking about her whenever she’s not there. Life centers around her and there’s not a chance in the world that your affections will wander off to some other.
Those of you who have known such a love know exactly what I mean. And those of you who haven’t don’t have a hard time imagining it. As one who loves both a woman and wisdom, I can tell you that there is a great similarity between these loves. I understand what the father is telling his sons here. And I couldn’t agree more. The great thing is that the joy of (embracing) wisdom, of loving wisdom, is available to all—old and young, man and woman, married and single, adult and child. It doesn’t even favor the smart; you don’t need great intelligence to embrace deep wisdom.
My grandfather only completed the sixth grade. He was the first of his family to move off the mountain and engage the industrialized world, and he was a laborer all his life. But he was a faithful student of Scripture, of wisdom, and virtually every word he spoke reflected that. He was quiet, a man of few words. But I found that whenever I was near him my ear was tuned to his voice. And I would stop everything to listen when he spoke.
His oldest son, my father’s older brother, inherited this wisdom and advanced it. His own son’s ear seemed deaf to it. But I loved hearing him talk. He never went to college either, but he had a successful career in finance with HUD. He was a bi-vocational pastor; he was ordained and preached the Word weekly to small congregations in Hopewell and Petersburg, VA, for many years. And I’m convinced he read more widely and deeply than I do. We never got to spend long periods of time together, but with whatever few minutes we had he would speak excitedly of his latest discovery in God’s Word. He loved wisdom! He (prized her highly, and she (exalted him); she (honored him as he embraced) her (8). She marked his life indelibly.
So, what is our take-away today? It is simply this: the charge that stands at the heart of this passage: 5 Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. If there is a single charge I could commend to you as the Pastor of this Church, it is this one. I believe this charge stands at the center of God’s Word, not just of this passage. Inherent in it is the balance of what is taught in the Word of God. If we will embrace wisdom as the father is talking about here, not only will we hear the call of the greatest commandment to love the Lord (our) God with all (our) heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love (our) neighbor as (ourself) (Mar.12:30-31), but we will also receive the power to obey it through repentance and faith in the One Who did it perfectly, then laid down His life as a sacrifice for our sin. When we embrace the wisdom of God we embrace the One Who embodied it and displayed it perfectly according to the Father’s plan. As we grow in our love and devotion to Him we receive the insurance of full assurance of faith. We are enabled to hear and believe and live out the promises He makes to those who love Him. Our eyes are fixed on heaven, our inheritance, and we’re increasingly confident we’ll be with Him there in testimony to His grace and mercy, His steadfast love and faithfulness.
As we receive His wisdom from His Word through His people, we gradually begin to recognize the difference between it and the wisdom of this world, to which we can become so attached. We’re weaned from this world’s wisdom by the sweeter taste of wisdom from God. And very soon we will testify with James (3:17-18), increasingly confident that 17 … the wisdom from above is … pure, … peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Bottom line: 7 … get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight, and enter in to the full joy of her blessings!