The Pursuit of Wisdom Back to all sermons

Date: August 31, 2012

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Category: Wisdom

Scripture: Proverbs 1–2

Tags: wisdom

A little boy came home from his first day at school with a scowl on his face and announced to his mother that he wasn’t going back. “Why not?” she asked him. He replied: “It’s a waste of time. I can’t read. I don’t know how to write. And they won’t let me talk.”

This week marks the beginning of a new school year in many of the schools in UAE. So it’s a good time to ask the question: Why do we go to school? If we were to open this question up for discussion, I think two words would soon rise to the forefront: knowledge and wisdom.

As we continued our discussion, we might press for a distinction between these two commodities. While they are certainly not mutually exclusive, nor are they synonymous. Schools are generally better at imparting knowledge than they are at imparting wisdom. For those of you who are students, embarking on a new school year, there is a realistic expectation that if you apply yourself to your studies with reasonable effort, you will expand in knowledge throughout this school year. But will you increase in wisdom? Ah, that is a different question, isn’t it?

There is nothing wrong with knowledge. We need it. I would strongly encourage you to study hard and to gain knowledge, but what I want to do this morning is to add an even stronger exhortation for this year; that you might grow in wisdom. And I offer this exhortation to all of us, whether we are in school or not.

In the middle of our Bible there is a cluster of five books, including Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Bible scholars refer to these books as Wisdom Literature. Each of these books is unique in format and style and content, but each of them has in common the goal of imparting wisdom to the readers.
Everyone I know wants to be wise and to be seen as wise by others. I have never met anyone who said that his goal in life was to be a fool. So why is there so much foolishness in the world? Why is there so little true wisdom? And what is true wisdom anyway? These are questions worth considering at this, the beginning of a new school year.

To guide are thoughts, we are going to be looking at an overview of the first two chapters of the Book of Proverbs. Let’s read the first 5 verses of Proverbs 1:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2 To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5     Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,

While Biblical literature sometimes uses the words wisdom and knowledge interchangeably, wisdom in Biblical thinking always has a unique character. It is not academic or theoretical in form. It does not deal primarily with the great mysteries of life which occupy so much of the time of philosophers and even theologians. The Hebrew concept of wisdom was very practical in focus. It expressed a person’s approach to life; one’s decisions and choices, whether they are right or wrong and whether they lead to an effective and fulfilling life. Wisdom is something which may be found in abundance in the thatched home of an illiterate farmer and be utterly missing in the fancy house and among the thousands of books of a Ph.D professor. It is about skill in living, not just the acquisition of facts about the world.

So here is my challenge to all of us at the beginning of a new year. Let’s pursue wisdom, not just knowledge. As we seek to do that, let’s see what else we can discover from these first two chapters of Proverbs.

The first thing we discover is that wisdom comes to those who pursue it. It is an active pursuit. Look at Proverbs 2:1-4:

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,

Did you notice the verbs in that section? Receive, treasure up, make your ear attentive, incline your heart, call out, raise your voice, seek, search…

Acquiring wisdom is not passive. We don’t get it by osmosis. We can’t simply sit and absorb it. It is something we must pursue actively and aggressively. We must make the acquisition of wisdom a priority; stay in tune, listen, process, be an active learner. What will you do to acquire wisdom this year?

Wisdom does not come automatically. The passing of time alone will not impart wisdom. As the saying goes: “Wisdom does not always come with old age. Sometimes old age comes alone.” There are a lot of old fools, just as there are young people who are remarkably wise. To acquire wisdom we must actively pursue wisdom.

I would also point out that wisdom is a lifelong quest. It should begin in our youth, as we read in Proverbs 1:4:

to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—

But while it may begin there, it should not end there. The truly wise never stop learning as we continue to read in verse 5:

5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,

Pursue wisdom through all of life and in all of life’s stages. It is a pursuit that never ends. It is never too soon to begin this pursuit. It is always too soon to abandon this pursuit. Seek for wisdom like a treasure hunter on an expedition.

That brings us to a second principle found in these chapters. True wisdom strongly resists evil enticements.

Biblical wisdom has a very large moral component. True wisdom is inextricably linked with what is right and wrong. What is right is wise. What is wrong is ultimately foolish. The world is full of temptations and attractive enticements. But wisdom resists these enticements because it recognizes them as foolish.

This is stated in general terms in Proverbs 2:11-15:

discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
and who are devious in their ways.

Discretion, understanding and true wisdom will protect us and guard us and deliver us from taking the wrong path in life and from following the wrong companions.

Enticements to evil are many and take different forms. These two chapters expand on three of the more common enticements. As we read them, we realize how little has changed in the world since Solomon’s time.

Let’s read Proverbs 1:10-19:

10My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
11If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
12like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
15my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
16for their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed blood.
17 For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
18but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
19Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors.

In these verses the writer paints a picture of a young man being enticed to join a gang bent on mischief. There are actually two sources of enticement or temptation featured in this little vignette.

The first one is peer pressure. It is strong here. “Come with us…let us…throw in your lot with us…”

Let me speak very plainly to you young people this morning. In this coming year, this will probably be your greatest struggle and your greatest temptation to leave the path of wisdom and take the path of foolishness – the appeal of joining, of being part of the group, of being accepted. “Let us…come with us… throw in your lot with us…” How many foolish things will you do this year – just to be part of the gang?

The Scripture’s warning is clear: “My son, my daughter, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your feet from their paths.” A foolish path is a foolish path, no matter how many other people are walking down it.

I said that I especially wanted to speak to young people. But let’s acknowledge that peer pressure remains a powerful force at every stage of life. Choose your friends and companions carefully. Be wise. True wisdom strongly resists evil enticements.

The second enticement or temptation included in this true life snapshot is the enticement to easy money.

It stands out in verses 13-14:     

13we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—

Verse 19 also speaks of being greedy for unjust gain. Greed leads to moral and ethical shortcuts and even to crime. It may be violent crime. It may be white-collar crime. Easy money and ill-gotten gain can be very tempting. There are many temptations in the work place in Abu Dhabi. Temptations to participate in wrong doing or even just to turn a blind eye and tolerate it. But wisdom sees through it. It sees that ill-gotten gains lead eventually to misery. As we read in verse 19, “It takes away the life of its possessors.”

There is rather an amusing bit of irony included in this warning in verses 17-18 where it speaks of birds being caught in a net. In high school, I had a good friend who used to trap birds in a net. But the key to a good bird net is that it must be so thin and disguised as to be invisible to the birds. We think of birds as being not very bright. We even refer to someone disparagingly as a “bird brain.” But even birds are bright enough to avoid a net they can see. But those who pursue ill gotten gains are described as being caught in a net of their own making. These guys are not too bright! If you’re wise, you will not fall prey with them.

The third enticement to evil is described in Proverbs 2:16-19:

So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words,
17who forsakes the companion of her youth
and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 for her house sinks down to death,
and her paths to the departed;
19none who go to her come back,
nor do they regain the paths of life.

The third enticement is the temptation to sexual immorality; to easy sex. In spite of all the talk of sexual revolution and the new morality and even the “new normal”, God’s standards of morality have not changed. Sex outside of marriage is sin and it is foolish. Those who indulge in it will pay a high price. True wisdom will deliver us from falling into this trap. Wisdom urges us to look to the end of the path, before we embark on it. Count the cost, in health, in suspicion and lack of trust, in broken marriages and broken homes, in shame and public disgrace.

There are many temptations to immorality in Abu Dhabi. There are many lonely people here; people separated from home and family and spouses. It is easy to make excuses for ourselves and fall prey to these temptations. To do so is foolish. Choose the path of wisdom. Wisdom will deliver you from this path which leads to heartache and disillusionment.

Wisdom strongly resists evil enticements. True wisdom has a very strong moral component. It’s about making the right choices and doing the right thing. Maybe I can say it another way by contrasting a couple of other words from contemporary thought. Wisdom is about character, not personality. The contemporary world puts a high value on personality; being winsome, outgoing, popular. Getting what we want by pleasing people. We say, “He is a good people person.” We even talk about “people skills.” Now, there is nothing wrong with personality or even with having “people skills”, but it is possible to have personality and be very superficial. It is possible to have personality and use that personality for the purpose of manipulating other people for our own ends. It is possible to turn personality on and off. Character goes much deeper. Character is about moral fiber and consistency and doing the right things for the right reasons and doing them day in and day out. Wisdom is about the development of character.

The third principle which these chapters make clear is this: The pursuit of true wisdom is first and foremost a spiritual quest for the knowledge of God and a right relationship with him.

This is where Biblical wisdom parts company dramatically from the wisdom the world offers. It recognizes that there is no true wisdom outside of a right relationship with God.

Psalm 14:1 spells this out in no uncertain terms:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” The greatest fool in all the world is the atheist who denies the existence of God. This is true, no matter how many degrees he may place after his name, or how many books he writes. That man is a fool. He lacks any semblance of true wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7 states this same truth positively:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

Fear, in the sense of reverence and respect. True wisdom, true “knowledge” is based on a reverence and respect and worship of God as the Creator and Sovereign Lord over all the earth.

The fear of the Lord is where our search for wisdom begins. But it is also where a quest for true wisdom will lead us. Remember where we ended our reading in Proverbs 2:4 with searching for wisdom like hidden treasure? Notice the next few verses:

then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
8 guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.

The quest for wisdom is always, above all, a spiritual quest; a spiritual journey into the heart and mind of God; the God who made us, the God who loves us, the God who desires us to walk before him in love and obedience.

This same truth is emphasized again and again throughout the Scriptures. Let’s look at another example from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament.

For the Old Testament, let’s look to one of the prophets, to Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 9:23-24:

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

A wisdom that is divorced from God is not true wisdom. It is not worth boasting about. Nor is physical strength or prowess, nor are earthly riches. None of these things are worth boasting about. Only the true knowledge of God. In this lies true wisdom true might, true riches.

For a New Testament example, let’s turn to 2 Peter 1: 2-3:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

A life filled with grace and peace sounds like a life wisely lived. We are promised that grace and peace will be multiplied to us – but it will be found “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” We are told that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, but this divine power is wrapped up “in the knowledge of the One who called us.”

True wisdom is first and foremost and above all a spiritual quest for the knowledge of God and a right relationship with him.

In Proverbs 1:20-31, the writer paints another picture for us. In this picture, wisdom is personified as woman, crying out a warning:

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
21at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

It is both a warning and an invitation, isn’t it? It is a warning to listen before it is too late. One key to wisdom is that it thinks ahead. It does not rely on hind-sight but on foresight. After we have made the wrong choices and the wrong decisions and the calamity has come upon us, what good is wisdom then? It is too late then to avoid the disaster. It is like the little child who is being carried out of church, crying, “I’ll be good, Mommy. I’ll be good!” It’s too late then.

Now, hopefully we do learn from our mistakes and acquire some wisdom for the future. But the emphasis of this passage is to use wisdom as foresight to avoid the traps and disasters before they come. They are sad words: “I know better now.” How much better to pursue wisdom in the first place.

So, school is starting. Actually, the school of life is always in session. Let us commit ourselves together to pursue wisdom in all of life. Let us pursue it passionately with all our hearts. It is worth pursuing.The promise is clear in Proverbs 2:20-22.

So you will walk in the way of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will inhabit the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it,
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

This search will be a quest for character, for integrity. It will be about making moral choices and ethics. It will involve doing what is right and avoiding shortcuts and “get rich quick schemes”.

And finally, the pursuit of wisdom will be a spiritual quest; a desire to know God and walk with him more closely. Will you join me this year in this quest?

There is a challenge, a kind of benediction that summarizes this quest. It is found in 2 Peter 3:17-18. Obstacles and temptations will come and they will abound. This is not an easy quest. But listen to these words:

You therefore, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

Share a memory from your experience of a “first day” of school.

In your own words, how would you distinguish between knowledge and wisdom?

In the sermon, Pastor Cam says that schools are better at imparting knowledge than they are at imparting wisdom. Do you agree or disagree? Why do you think this is?

“Smart kids, foolish choices” What do you think this quote/title is conveying? How does the Biblical definition of wisdom relate to it?

“Wisdom strongly resists evil enticements.” This is one of the main points of this sermon. What are some of the evil enticements described in Proverbs 1-2? How common are these enticements today? How does wisdom protect us against them?

“Wisdom is ultimately a spiritual quest…” Do you agree or disagree? Why?

What will you do this year to pursue true wisdom?