His little head rises higher and higher. Soon, his hazel eyes stand level with the glowing burner radiating heat. Ever-so-slowly that tiny hand creeps toward that red ring… “Don’t touch!” warns mom. He freezes— and his mind instantly begins dissecting that warning. The orange glow does not appear harmful— after all, the heat feels like summer heat and orange is a pretty color. The circle element kind of looks like a toy-ring. He weighs mom’s warning against his observations and reaches a conclusion: Mom is wrong! Disregard the warning! So, those tiny fingers continue their journey closer and closer to the glowing element. The fingers descend on their goal, and… INSTANTLY pain shoots up his fingers, through his hand, and down his arm. Fingertips turn fleshy red. His hand burns. Tears stream down his face. This young child did not expect the searing results he received.
We have a word for a person who acts like that: a ‘know-it-all,’ someone who behaves as if he knows everything (https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/know%20it%20all). That behavior not only affects little children (and your bossy siblings), it can infiltrate your heart too. Thinking that you already know every Bible teaching and application, warning and encouragement, promise and guarantee leads you to think that God has nothing left to teach you.
A ‘know-it-all’ doesn’t describe you, does it?
This morning, Ponder Wisdom’s Two Questions. (1) What is wisdom? And, (2) Are you wise?
Maybe you find it difficult to define ‘wisdom.’ If you are like me, it’s easier to describe ‘wisdom’ not with a definition, but with an application. You identify ‘wisdom’ when you see it. Perhaps you consider ‘wisdom’ as avoiding harmful choices and selecting beneficial choices. Maybe you equate ‘wisdom’ with experience. You perform some action and gain results. Then you evaluate the results in order to shape future decisions. You realize that we tend to define wisdom as this cause-and-effect notion.
Yet, in Proverbs 9:10, God does not leave us fumbling for a concrete definition of wisdom. Instead, he explains (1) what wisdom is and (2) how wisdom functions. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. So, God links two items together. (1) ‘Fear’ and ‘Wisdom,’ (2) ‘Knowledge of Holy One’ and ‘Understanding.’ Have fear, you have wisdom.
That’s where wisdom begins? With ‘fear?’ That sounds strange. I mean, in our English language, if you “fear” someone that usually means you are scared of that person. So, being “scared” of the Lord is how you become wise? In a way, yes! He is the Almighty God who stretched a measuring line across our universe, who shut the sea behind doors, clothed the skies with clouds, and brings out the sun every morning (Job 38). Your God is the Holy One who lives in heaven, far above all rule and authority, a place reserved only for the perfect! That is scary, that is terrifying because I am not God and God is not me. I fail people; I deliberately choose to do evil. God never fails people; God never does evil (James 1:13). I do not compare to him. In fact, I fall short.
That takes ‘fear’ to admit that. Yes, to be afraid that you (and I) fall under God’s punishment for failure. Yet, ‘fear’ also means something else; it means, ‘to respect.’ It takes ‘fear’ (or ‘respect’) to admit that God judges over me and I stand judged by God.
So, that wisdom places me at a starting point. Real wisdom recognizes two truths: (1) It recognizes the deadly consequences of sin and (2) sees Jesus as the antidote to those consequences. The fear of the Lord… that is, respecting God’s position over me… is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
That ‘Holy One’ is none other than Jesus Christ. Just look at him! He is holy! Morally faultless! The sick crowd around him and he does not prescribe treatments for a better life on earth. No! He points people to a healing for their soul. When he preaches, he points to the Bible—and not what he thinks. Even though he has no savings account, no permanent home, no bed, Jesus still confidently relies on God to provide. Jesus ‘fears’ the Lord; he ‘respects’ God’s impact in his life and proves it by shaping his entire being around God’s commands.
You know that; you know Jesus is the Holy One. You also know just what God thinks about human wisdom: He hates it. The Holy One hangs on the cross, groaning under God’s righteous frown. God finds your (and my) ‘know-it-all’ attitude on Jesus and cannot stand to look at it. So, he turns his back and leaves. He does not rescue Jesus. He answers no cry for help. He forsakes his Son and our worldly wisdom with him—and then he buries it. He buries our wisdom with his Son in the ground. Three days later Jesus comes out of the ground. He comes out without our wisdom and with his message of wisdom: ‘Cleansed! Purified! Pardoned!’
So, What is wisdom? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Quite simply: (1) You recognize the deadly consequences of sin and (2) trust Jesus as the only antidote to those consequences.
That leads to our second question: (2) Are you wise? Wisdom is not a mere definition, but also application. Think back to that little child. He holds a warning about the hot stovetop, but did not put it into practice. Holding God’s Word in high regard brings eternal life. Still, those are not lifeless words. For you, the Christian, those words are put into action. So, Are you wise?
Do you apply wisdom? Verse 8 says: Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you… A mocker is a proud person, a ‘know-it-all.’ He thinks he knows everything there is to know about everything. The worst trait about that attitude is that he refuses to take God’s truth to heart. He refuses to admit that his lifestyle clearly contradicts God’s clear commands. He refuses to admit that his life needs changing. Really, he is pushing God out of his heart—which is foolish because only God brings life. [R]ebuke a wise man— someone who humbly admits that God and his Word carries authority over him-- and he will love you. So the question is: Are you wise?
Today marks the beginning of our Christian education year. Think about many opportunities to grow in God’s Word. Sunday School teaches Bible accounts of God’s love. Catechism class studies God’s teachings for life. Bible class examines life’s questions under the microscope of God’s Word. An online class puts a book of the Bible into simple words and simple application. God presents teachings to guide decisions and form answers, comfort and console, and most of all, keep your heart close to him.
That is why the devil works on you. He tries to make you into a fool. He will tell you that you are too busy to read your Bible. He will tell you that you already know every Bible story, every Bible topic, every discussion any class will have. He will tell you that you have another day, another time to be in the Word. I know he does that because he tries to convince me of the same things. “You’re a Pastor. You already studied all this.” “You instruct people. You do not need instruction.” “You’re so busy today. Study tomorrow …Start again next week …next anniversary.” Do you know why Satan whispers these excuses? He knows that if he can just get you to put the Bible down, to stop using it so often, you will begin forgetting God’s promises. You will forget God’s commands. You will start creating Bible-sounding sayings. You will begin clinging to made-up statements about the Bible. You will rely on what you think you know— and you will never figure how wrong you are until God exposes how distant you stand from him!
Let’s find wisdom in verse 9. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. Did you catch that? ‘Instructing’ always leaves a positive impact! (read also Isaiah 55:10-11). You will always have room to learn more information, better identify God’s promises, and grow in applying the Word to life. After all, life changes, right? Like, a 4-year-old just wants loving care. The 14-year-old worries about acceptance by friends and classmates. The 24-year-old worries about getting a job and starting “life.” The 40-year-old worries about retirement. The 84-year-old worries about health in later years. Throughout life certain things change. What does not change is the instruction God teaches. A 4-year-old knows the Good Shepherd lovingly cares for him. The 14-year-old knows the Good Shepherd accepts him as a dear friend. The 24-year-old sees the Good Shepherd satisfy fear by providing education and job, spouse and income. The 40-year-old sees the Good Shepherd provide for both life on earth and in heaven. The 84-year-old knows the Good Shepherd will lead her through death’s dark valley and into heaven. Just this one timeless psalm provides a myriad of application for every age!
That is the reason these education opportunities exist. That is why your congregation encourages using these many Bible opportunities. That is why your Pastor prepares to ‘instruct’ you, the ‘wise man.’ So that you become wiser still.
After all, you are not a ‘know-it-all,’ are you? May God forbid it! Thinking that you already know every Bible teaching and application, warning and encouragement, promise and guarantee leads you to think that God has nothing left to teach you. That does not benefit you. Instead, a ‘know-it-all’ attitude actually stunts your life with God!
Maybe a better phrase to stick in mind is: ‘Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.’ (https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2017/05/dont-be-a-know-it-all-be-a-learn-it-all/). That happens when our hearts remember that real wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Cherishing the fact that only Jesus stands us right before God! That, dear friends, changes life. That dismantles excuses. What joy we have to keep pondering the wisdom we have received from God! Jesus cures us from death. That Word continues guiding life.