There are only two kinds of people on the planet, only two kinds of people in the world, according to Scripture. There are wise and there are foolish. Those are the only kinds of people that exist. The world is full of fools, and sprinkled among the fools are the wise. The fools: everyone who doesn’t know God. The wise: everyone who does. So when you’re talking about wisdom you’re not talking about a subject, you’re talking about the subject. You’re talking about the most defining reality that can be declared about those who know God. They are the wise.
When Jesus told a story He talked about two kinds of virgins: wise and foolish. Everybody in the world is in one of those two categories, and there’s no middle ground. You’re either a fool or you’re wise. If you don’t know God, you’re a fool; if you know God, you’re wise. If you’re a fool, you may not be as foolish as some other fools, but you’re a fool. If you’re wise, you may not be as wise as some other wise people, but you’re wise. That’s the dividing reality.
It was said about Daniel and his friends, Daniel 1:17, “As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom.” One thing to have intelligence; that’s a definable human characteristic. It was good that God gave them intelligence. Another thing to have knowledge, that’s information; but it’s quite another to take that intelligence, put it together with the knowledge, and come up with wisdom. This was recognizable. This was not just a declaration of God, this was recognizable.
“Belteshazzar,” – the king said this to Daniel, recognizing that he was standing before someone who’s very unique, he said – “are you that Daniel,” – chapter 5 – “who’s one of those exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? Now I’ve heard about you, that a Spirit of God is in you, and that illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom has been found in you.” When a fool recognizes somebody who has extraordinary wisdom, that’s remarkable.
Somebody figured out that since knowledge began, let’s just say – let’s just say, since the beginning of all man’s accumulated knowledge all the way to 1845, if that represented one inch, from 1845 to 1945 would amount to three inches. So in a 100-year period you have a tripling of all information up to 1845. If you went from 1945, when it’s three inches, to 1975, it would be the height of the Washington Monument. In case you haven’t checked lately, that’s 555 feet high. This is an amazing explosion of data.
Inventor, innovator, and mathematician Buckminster Fuller presented his knowledge-doubling curve in 1982 in his best-selling book called Critical Path. He argued this, that our acquisition of knowledge at the end of World War II had jumped from doubling approximately every century to doubling every 25 years, and he said it would continue to accelerate, approaching a J-curve. You know what a J-curve is? “In rapid ascend by the 2010s” – and we’re still in them, 2018 of the 2010s – “nanotechnology has been doubling every two years, and clinical knowledge every 18 months. On average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months,” wrote researcher David Russell Schilling.
And recently, IBM forecasts that knowledge within this 2010 period will double every 12 hours. Massive explosion of information. But it does nothing to overcome the dilemma of fools, it just gives them more ways to express their foolishness. In spite of all that information, all information doubling every 12 hours does nothing to take man out of the category of foolishness.
We live in a world of fools. In fact, Romans 1 says that, “They are fools, but they don’t know it, so they profess to be” – what? – “wise. Professing to be wise, they have become the worst fools.” It’s one thing to be a fool and know you’re a fool; it’s something else to be a fool and think you’re wise. They give each other PhDs for their folly. Romans 1 also says, “They become empty in their speculation, and their foolish heart is darkened.”
In Ephesians chapter 4 there is a similar comment. Chapter 4 we read some familiar words that I know you’re aware of that define people without God. “The Gentiles walk in the emptiness of their mind,” – verse 17, chapter 4 – “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”
That’s a characterization of the nations of the world. Their minds are empty. Their understanding is darkened. They are excluded from the life of God, which means they’re dead in trespasses and sins. They’re ignorant; the ignorance is deep in them. It’s a part of the hardness of their heart. They are callous, and they therefore yield themselves to every kind of sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity, and they do it with greediness. They can’t sin fast enough or full enough to satisfy their own lustful greed. So what you have in a world of fools with exploding knowledge is just an endless new way to express this darkened understanding.
“But” – says Paul in Ephesians 4 – “you did not learn Christ in that way.” I love the fact that he uses the word “learn.” “You just came out of ignorance into knowledge. You just came out of folly into wisdom. You did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as the truth is in Jesus, that in reference to your former manner of you, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
If anything defines a Christian it is that he has come out of the darkness into the light, out of the ignorance into the knowledge and understanding, out of foolishness into wisdom. We are defined by that. Paul says, “Fools are” – 2 Timothy 3:7 – “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
First Corinthians 2:14 he writes, “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness to him.” He think he’s wise and he’s a fool. The whole world is simply living out the old story of The Emperor’s Clothes. They think they’re robed in intellectual garments and they’re stark naked fools.
Paul goes on to say, “Those persons cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually appraised.” In that same passage he also says, “Spiritual truth is not attained by any kind of human wisdom.” This is pervasive, universal foolishness. It characterizes all human beings; they are born fools. Proverbs 22:15 puts it this way: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” They arrive foolish. It’s part of being human, to be a fool, to lack wisdom.
And what are the marks of this folly that basically are universal would be true of us in our unconverted condition. I would just suggest to you a few to think about, and my responsibility tonight is to kind of introduce the subject. So I’m going to maybe give you kind of a tour de force approach to this whole thing and pull as much together as I can.
So what are the characteristics of this universal human folly? Well, one that would be very familiar to you – and we’ll start with that – is they reject God. They reject God. Do you remember Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1, “The fool has said in his heart” – what? – ‘There is no God.’” That’s where their folly begins: “There is no God.” That is to say, they do not believe in the true and living God. They might come up with another deity, as they do almost universally.
Psalm 74:18 and Psalm 74:22 put it this way: “Fools blaspheme God all day long. Fools blaspheme God all day long.” That is the foundational definition of a fool: someone who rejects the true and living and only God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 1 shows us what happens. So turn in your Bibles for a moment – we’re going to be looking at a lot of different passages – to Romans chapter 1. Familiar verses about the wrath of God.
Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” – suppress what truth? – “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are with out excuse. Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became empty in their speculations,” – sounds like the language of Ephesians 4 – “and their foolish heart was darkened.” Verse 22, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Animism.
This is a universal pattern in the human race. The wrath of God is revealed against this. So what are we talking about here? I don’t want to go into this, because this is another message to think about. But there are multiple forms of the wrath of God. There is universal eternal wrath: that’s hell. That’s the wrath of God in its final, everlasting form. There’s eschatological wrath: that’s the wrath of God as it will be unleashed at the return of Jesus Christ with those events that occur in the time of tribulation prior to His arrival, and then the judgment that happens when He arrives. There is a kind of, I guess you could say, natural wrath. It works itself out like sowing and reaping: what you sow you reap. That works its way out in normal human life.
This is none of those. What this wrath is is that wrath of God which is unleashed on people who have the knowledge of God both in them, because the law of God is written in their hearts, and around them through the creation; and by virtue of reason they must come to the conclusion that there has to be a cause for this massive effect. They are without excuse. The wrath of God against those who turn on Him in this life, in this world, which again is a universal reality, is that God gives them over. God gives them over. This is a form of judgment.
What do you mean the wrath of God? Well, he describes it in verse 24: “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. They had exchanged the truth of God for a lie, worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who’s bless forever. Amen.” God gave them over, first of all, verse 24, to sexual impurity. They operated completely out of the lusts of their bodies, and they dishonored their bodies among them. When this wrath of God is unleashed, a society has a sexual revolution.
Verse 26, again, here’s another form of the judgment: “God gave them over to degrading passions; their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” Venereal disease. This is homosexual revolution. When the wrath of God is unleashed on those who reject Him there is inevitably a sexual revolution followed by a homosexual revolution.
And then God isn’t finished in this judgment, verse 28: “They didn’t see fit again to acknowledge God,” – the God who had revealed Himself in them and around them – “so God gave them over a third time to a depraved mind.” The mind doesn’t function. This is a reprobate mind, this is a nonfunctioning mind; that’s when you get something like transgenderism where you’re literally bereft of your senses, and that results in all kinds of evil: unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice – all the kinds of things that go on in our society all the time.
So there is a wrath of God that’s eternal. There’s a wrath of God that’s eschatological. There’s a wrath of God that’s personal. There’s even a wrath of God that’s sort of natural, and you could call that things like tsunamis or floods or earthquakes, or all of a sudden like the people in Santa Barbara who sitting in their house mudslide covers them. There are those kind of natural expressions of divine wrath.
But this is the kind of wrath that says for those fools who reject God there is a spiraling into insanity. This foolishness becomes a kind of insanity where you don’t even – you can’t even identify the most obvious truth about yourself. If you don’t know whether you’re a man or a woman check your closet, a good place to start.
So you have a world that is going in this direction, and this is cycling all the time, cycling all the time. We’re living in this cycle right now in America. We’ve reached the reprobate mind along with the rest of the Western world.
There’s a second characteristic, and let’s go back to the book of Proverbs, and we’ll pick it up in the book of Proverbs together. When you begin to understand fools and evaluate their folly, what follows immediately upon a rejection of God is this inevitability. Listen to Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.”
All right, now that you’ve eliminated the true God, who becomes God? You do. So the first characteristic of fools is they reject God. The second characteristic of fools is that they worship self. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.”
You see that in our culture today all around us. Everybody is entitled to define truth in any way they want. Proverbs 28:26, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool. He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” He becomes the source of truth, he becomes the standard of truth, the standard of what is right, the standard of what is wrong. This is the most universal and common form of idolatry. This is idolatry, self-worship; but it is the most ubiquitous, common characteristic of fools.
There’s a third characteristic of fools that is laid out in the book of Proverbs. This is again obvious. If you reject the true God, you reject Him because you don’t want Him controlling your life. You don’t want Him setting the standards and the rules, and rendering the judgments, so you become your own god. And so consequently, now that you’ve become your own god, you are bound then to reject everything that the God you reject has declared as true. And the way that the proverbs talk about this is interesting. A simple statement in Proverbs 14:9, “Fools mock at sin. Fools mock as sin.”
Scripture describes fools in these terms. Scripture says that fools walk in darkness, cling to sin, are corrupt, abominable, self-sufficient, self- deceived, empty talkers, liars, angry, lazy, contentious, hypocritical, idolatrous, and self-destructive. They mock at sin. In other words, they fail to give any weight to the destructive power of sin.
So how do you define a fool? Someone who rejects the true God; someone who becomes his own God, or creates his own God, which is another way of worshiping self; someone who then eliminates all that the true God has laid out and becomes a mocker of sin. The fourth characteristic – and I’m just plucking up the main ones out of Proverbs – is that fools corrupt each other. They corrupt each other.
In Proverbs 15 – there are a lot of verses that would deal with this, and you’ll hear more from the other men. Proverbs 15:2, “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly.” They don’t want to be alone. Verse 14 says, “They feed on folly.” And verse 2 says, “They spout folly.” They propagate their folly, their ignorance.
So the simple definition of a fool, at least sort of, I guess you could say clinically is a God-rejecter, a self-worshiper, one who mocks at sin, and one who corrupts everybody around him. Now with that in mind, let’s go back to Proverbs chapter 1. The word “fool” appears in the book of Proverbs forty-two times, so there’s a lot in the book of Proverbs about fools. And you would expect that in a book about the wise, because a contrast has to be made.
But what is most defining about fools and what we’re going to look at primarily as we contrast them with the wise comes in chapter 1 of Proverbs, verse 7, second statement in that verse: “Fools despise wisdom.” They hate wisdom. They hate divine truth, they hate the word of God, and therefore they hate wisdom.
Now Proverbs is written. It opens by saying, “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom, to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the naïve, and to the youth knowledge and discretion, a wise man will hear and increase in learning, a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” That’s why this is all here. This is a call to the fools of the world to listen.
And wisdom is personified here. Go down to verse 20. “Wisdom shouts in the streets.” This is the personification of wisdom, as if wisdom is a person. “Wisdom shouts in the streets, she lifts her voice in the square; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings: ‘How long, O naïve ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delights themselves scoffing and fools hate knowledge?’”
And while wisdom is crying out, and of course, it’s crying out from heaven in the streets through the word of God and the voice of all who are faithful to the word of God, while it’s crying out, it also is offering an invitation, verse 23: “Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit” – the spirit of wisdom – “on you; and I will make my words known to you.”
There is then at the very outset of the book of Proverbs this wonderful declaration that through all of human history wisdom will be crying out in the streets. There will always be the servants of God. There will always be the faithful. There will always be representatives of the kingdom of heaven. There will always be the word of God; and the cry and the invitation is that wisdom is available.
But throughout human history there’s a universal response sadly, verse 24: “Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel and didn’t want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes.” That doesn’t sound very nice, does it? But that’s what happens to fools who reject the cry of wisdom. God laughs at their calamity, mocks when their dread comes.
“When your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call on me,” – wisdom says – “and I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and didn’t choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way” – that’s Romans 1; they’re going right down that path – “and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naïve will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.”
Only two kinds of people in the world: the fools and the wise. Proverbs 10:21 says, “Fools die for lack of understanding.” And the irony again, as we saw in Romans 1, is that they profess to be wise.
There’s another illustration of that, while we’re wrapping up a look at the fools, turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 1, 1 Corinthians chapter 1. Again, in particular, “Fools reject the word of the cross, but fools who think they’re wise think the cross is foolishness.” Verse 18 in 1 Corinthians 1, “The word of the cross, the preaching of the cross is foolishness, foolishness.” It’s the Greek word mōron. It’s also an English word. It’s moronic to those who are perishing – that’s a category of people. Those who are perishing is a category of people. It is the universal category of the unconverted.
The second category in verse 18, “To us who are being saved.” There’s only two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are in the category of the perishing and those who are in the category of the saved. There are people perishing and there are people being saved. Your salvation is nearer than when you believed. It’s still a process, right? You haven’t had the full glorification yet. So the fools are in the category of the perishing, and they think the message of those who are being saved is foolish. This is how twisted they are. To us who are being saved, what they think is foolish is the power of God; for it is written, verse 19 quoting from Isaiah 29, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” This is all sarcasm.
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God.” There’s no way through the means of human wisdom to ever know God. Only way to know God was “through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
“The foolishness of God” – says verse 25 – “is wiser than men. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” Everything is on its head in the world. They think they’re wise and they’re fools. They think we’re fools and we’re wise.
In chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians, verse 18, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he’s wise in this age,” – again, there’s a certain irony here – “he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.” The only way you can truly become wise is to become what the world thinks is a fool, right? A world of fools who think they’re wise think you’re a fool if you become wise; that’s how twisted they are. We’re not surprised that there is increasing hostility against the Christian gospel; always has been.
“The wisdom of the world” – again in verse 19 – “is foolishness before God. It’s foolishness before God.” Verse 20, quoting from Psalm 94, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, they are useless, useless.” And we’re not talking about reasonings with regard to what is patently true in natural order and natural law, but we’re talking about the spiritual world. So this must be understood as the background to understanding what it means to be wise. With that in mind, let’s go back to Proverbs and let’s talk about wisdom, kind of get a big picture of it.
There are those who are wise. The world thinks they’re fools, but they’re wise. They are the possessors of divine truth and divine wisdom. First of all, it has to start where the apostle Paul starts it in 2 Timothy 3:15. That’s a really important statement that he makes there that with reference to Timothy, “You from the childhood have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation.” That’s the first, that’s the first dose of wisdom: spiritual wisdom, the gospel, the gospel. The Scriptures are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus, by faith alone in Christ alone, from Scripture alone. Wisdom begins with the gospel.
Turn to 1 Corinthians 1:30 again as we think about this in kind of broad terms, 1 Corinthians. Again, we’ve been there, but let me take you down to verse 30: “By His doing” – by the work of God – “you are in Christ Jesus.” That is such an incredible truth. “You are in Christ Jesus.” No religion in the world ever says that. Nobody says they’re in Buddha or in Mohammed. But ninety times in the New Testament it says, “We’re in Christ,” ninety times. Fifty of those “in Christ,” the other forty, “in the Lord Jesus Christ,” or, “in Christ Jesus.” Ninety times, “We are in Christ.”
We are in Christ in such a way that is literally mind-boggling. It starts in election, if you go back in eternity past, before anything was created. The apostle Paul says to the Ephesians, that, “You were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.” Those whom the Lord chose have been in Christ, in the mind of God, and in His redemptive purpose before time. They’re in Christ. This is staggering.
God sees His own as in Christ before He’s created anything. He knows who they are, and He has already joined them in the redemptive purpose to His Son. Those of us who believe were in Christ, chosen before the foundation of the world. When Christ lived His righteous life we were in Christ, and that life was being lived for us. When He died, we died with Him. When He was buried, we were buried with Him, says the apostle. When He arose, we rose with Him. When He ascended, we ascended with Him. When He sat down, we sat down with Him. We are inseparable from Him. For us, it became reality in our lives when we, through the Scriptures, saw the wisdom that leads to salvation. Look at that thirtieth verse: “You’re in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God.” I think that looks at salvation itself.
The work of regeneration, conversion, the new birth, the hearing and believing the gospel, the wisdom of the Scriptures that leads to salvation didn’t end there. He became to us not only wisdom, but righteousness. There you have justification, the imputation of His righteousness.
Following justification comes sanctification, and following sanctification comes final redemption. So I think what you have in that verse is everything from regeneration to justification to sanctification to redemption, and it’s the work of God uniting us in Christ. I was on God’s heart before anything was ever created. When the plan was rolled out, the plan incorporated all of us who believe. This was an actual plan to redeem an actual people who had been in Christ in the mind of God before any creation had ever taken place, and it all became applied when we, through the Scriptures, received the wisdom that leads to salvation. That’s where the wisdom began. “We have” – 1 Corinthians 2:16 – “the mind of Christ.” I know what He knows. I know what pleases Him, I know what displeases Him.
Do you remember on the road to Emmaus our Lord was walking along with those two disciples who didn’t recognize Him, and He said to them, “O fools.” They were believers, they were disciples, but they were acting like they weren’t. And what was their problem? “O fools, slow of heart to” – what’s the next line? – “believe all that the prophets have spoken!” This is so important. You’re a fool if you don’t believe all that God has revealed in His word. You can act like a fool by truncating the available wisdom and living a life in the shallows of all that is available to you. But if you’re a believer, you have received the wisdom that leads to salvation, and your sanctification is taking place. It may be hard to see, maybe slower than it should be. And by the way, the most painless thing that can possibly happen to you is rapid sanctification.
Let me tell you something. You say, “Oh, you know, trying to live the Christian life is so difficult.” No. Trying not to live the Christian life is difficult, because you’re cutting off the power. You’re failing to use the means of grace. You’re getting in the way of the Holy Spirit, you’re grieving Him. You’re disappointing the Lord, you’re being a pain in the rear end to the believers around you. You’re being useless as far as the kingdom is concerned, and you may be giving a bad testimony that undercuts the gospel. No. Slow sanctification is what you want to avoid, because rapid sanctification is the fastest track to joy. Okay? It’s the fastest path to joy.
So the book of Proverbs then contrasts the foolish and the wise. Let’s go back to it; just a couple of things to say, and then one other passage to look at.
So we gave a characterization of fools. What would a characterization of a wise person look like in Proverbs? So let me give you a few things to think about.
Here’s where wisdom begins, chapter 1, verse 7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” But if you see, that’s almost identical statement in Proverbs 9:10; it says it in a different way. It says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Let me tell you the first thing about a wise person. They know and fear God, just the opposite of the fool. They know and they fear God. Proverbs says those who know God and those who fear God prolong life, are blessed beyond wealth, are full of joy, receive an abundant life, and stay free from evil. This is the path of joy. “Fear the Lord,” – Proverbs 3:7 – “stay away from evil.” Proverbs says those who fear the Lord sleep satisfied, possess confidence in the future, are praised, and have their prayers answered. So the first characteristic of a wise person is they know and fear God.
Second characteristic is this: They guard their minds. They understand the premium of wisdom. They don’t stand in the way of sinners – to borrow from Psalm 1. They don’t sit in the seat of scoffers. Their delight is in the law of the Lord. Listen to it in the language of Proverbs chapter 3: “My son, do not forget my teaching, let your heart keep my commandments; length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” The wise guard their minds. They secure their minds for the truth.
Listen to Proverbs 4:20, and there’s a lot of other Scriptures on this: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Simply stated, “The wise know and fear” – in the sense of worship – “their God, and they guard their minds.”
Thirdly, they submit to authority. They understand what it is to obey their parents. That’s part of this spiritual wisdom, to be obedient to those who are in authority over you. We find it very early in Proverbs, verse 8 of chapter 1: “Hear, my son, your father’s instructions, do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they’re a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments around your neck.”
“The wise” – chapter 2, verse 1 – “receive the words of a father and treasure his commandments within them. Chapter 4, same thing: “Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, give attention that you may gain understanding, I give you sound teaching; do not abandon my instruction. When I was a son to my father, tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, then he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live.’” What a great thing for a father to pass down to his children.
That’s only a part of what comes in that fourth chapter, verse 10: “Hear, my son, accept my sayings and the years of your life will be many. I’ve directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.” And this I don’t even think is limited to sort of a genetic father; this is the advice and the counsel of a wise generation of godly people to those who are young.
And it goes on into verse 20: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body.” And again, “Watch over your heart with all diligence.”
The wise know and fear their God, guard their minds, obey their parents and those in authority over them who give them spiritual counsel. Number four: The wise are characterized because they select their friends, they select their friends. They’re careful, they don’t run with the crowd.
Go to chapter 1, verse 10: “My son, if sinners entice you, don’t consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us ambush the innocent without cause; let us swallow them alike like Sheol,’ – this is the proverbial gang mentality – ‘even whole, as those who go down to the pit; we will find all kinds of precious wealth, we’ll fill our houses with spoil; throw in your lot with us, we’ll all have one purse,’ my son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path; their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed blood.” That’s quoted in Romans 3. “It’s useless to spread the baited net in the sight of any bird; they lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; it takes away the life of its possessors.”
There’s a lot more in chapter 2, verse 11: “Discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things; from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who delight in doing evil, who rejoice in perversity of evil; whose paths are crooked, and are devious in their ways; to deliver you from the strange woman, from the adulteress who flatters with her words,” and on it goes.
The end of that chapter, verse 20, “So you will walk in the way of good men and keep in the paths of the righteous. And the upright will live in the land and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land and the treacherous will be uprooted from it.” The wise person selects his friends.
Number five: The wise subdue their desires. The wise subdue their desires. There’s a lot of this in the early chapters. Chapter 5, verse 20, “Why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress and embrace the bosom of a foreigner? For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths. His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he’ll be held with the cords of his sin. He will die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he will go astray.” Fools do that; the wise do not, they subdue their desires.
Chapter 6, again, “My son,” – verse 20 – “observe the commandment of your father, do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them on your heart, around your neck. They will guide you; they will watch over you even when you sleep; when you awake, they will talk to you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are a way of life to keep you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart.” Don’t let it start there.
Chapter 7 has a lot to say about that. Begins, “My son, keep my words, treasure my commandments, keep my commandments and live. Say to wisdom,” – in verse 4 – ‘You’re my sister,’ and call understanding your intimate friend; that they may keep you from an adulteress, from the foreigner who flatters with her words.”
And there’s even more, just maybe one other comment. Chapter 9, verse 13: “The woman of folly is boisterous, naïve, knows nothing. Sits at the doorway of her house, on a seat by the high places of the city, calling to those who pass by, who are making their paths straight: ‘Whoever is naïve, let him turn in here,’ and to him who lacks understanding she says, ‘Stolen water is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he doesn’t know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.”
And correspondingly, number six is, the wise in Proverbs are faithful to their spouse. The wise are faithful to their spouse. I love what it says in the euphemisms of chapter 5, verse 15: “Drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the street? Let them be yours alone and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy at all times; be exhilarated always with her love. For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress and embrace the bosom of a foreigner?”
We’re talking about practical wisdom, aren’t we? Chakam in Hebrew. It’s not a speculative word. It’s not a theoretical word. It’s not like sophos in Greek, which is speculative wisdom. This is the wisdom that could be translated “skill in living, skill in living.” And when you’re skilled in living you know and you fear your God. You guard your mind, you obey your parents, you select your friends, you subdue your desires, and you’re faithful to your partner, your spouse. The Hebrew word for “self-control” is used over forty times in Proverbs.
Number seven: The wise person in Proverbs watches his words. Chapter 4, verse 24: “Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you.” Chapter 5: “My son, give attention to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding; that you may observe discretion and your lips may reserve knowledge.” Chapter 6, again it’s the same kind of thing: “A worthless person,” – verse 12 – “a wicked man, is one who walks with a perverse mouth,” and it goes on. Chapter 10 there’s a whole lot about that.
Number eight in the list: The wise person works hard, works hard. Chapter 6, verse 6: “Go to the ant, O sluggard,” – sluggard’s an old word for “lazy person” – “observe her ways, be wise, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.” Lazy people won’t work, love sleep, waste time, dissipate energy, lose opportunity, suffer hunger, poverty, failure, and death.
Number nine: A wise person in the book of Proverbs manages money carefully, understanding that it is God who gives you the power the get wealth, and everything you have you receive from the Lord who’s the source of everything that’s good. A wise person manages money well. Chapter 3, verse 9: “Honor the Lord from your wealth from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” Manage your money well. Chapter 6 talks about, “Don’t become surety for a debtor, because now you have obligated your money to someone else and you have no control over it, and it’s your stewardship.” Manage your money.
One final statement that I think will sum up the ten that I had in mind: A wise person serves others. A wise person serves others. Chapter 3, verse 27: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it’s in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come back, and tomorrow I’ll give it,’ when you have it with you. Do not devise harm against your neighbor, when he lives securely beside you. Do not contend with a man without cause, if he’s done you no harm. Do not envy,” and so forth. Serves others.
So how do you characterize a wise person in the book of Proverbs? It’s someone who knows and fears God, a worshiper of the true God, who guards his mind, understanding the stewardship of thought. He obeys his parents. He learns to submit to spiritual authority and those who have the wisdom to impart to him. “Wisdom belongs” – says Proverbs – “to the aged.” You need to be listening to them. A wise person selects carefully his friends, subdues his desires, is faithful to his spouse, watches his words, works hard, manages carefully his money, and serves others.
How important is this? Chapter 4 of Proverbs, verse 5: “Acquire wisdom! Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!” Acquire wisdom. Proverbs says it’s better than jewels, it’s better than silver, it’s better than gold, and it’s better than pearls. Acquire wisdom.
Now how important should this be? I have access to wisdom as a believer, right? Wisdom saved me. Wisdom, the wisdom of the gospel, which I fully embraced, in its fullness from hearing and believing gospel all the way to glorification. I am among the wise. I have access to all this wisdom. How much should I pursue it? I’m going to do something that may be a little bit different.
But close your Bible for just a minute and look up here. I want you to hear from the very mouth of God, okay? And I’m a very limited representative; but I’m going to read you what God says about how you should passionately pursue wisdom. Listen, just listen. This is Proverbs 8. Just listen to what God says.
“Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates, at the opening to the city, at the entrance of the door, she cries out: ‘To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O naïve ones, understand prudence; O fools, understand wisdom. Listen, for I will speak noble things; and the opening of my lips will reveal right things. From my mouth will utter truth; and wickedness is an abomination in my lips. All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked or perverted in them. They’re all straightforward to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. Take my instruction’ – says wisdom – ‘and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her.
‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly. I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield better than choicest silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.
‘The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old,’ says wisdom. ‘From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always with Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.
‘Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways. Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. But he who sins against me injures himself; all those who hate me love death.’” That’s the cry of wisdom.
But where can wisdom be found? Turn to Job 28. Where can we find wisdom? Job 28, verse 12: “Where can wisdom be found?” Verse 20: “Where does wisdom come from?” It’s not going to be easy. It’s available. It’s calling.
Listen to how this chapter 28 begins: “Surely there’s a mine for silver and a place where they refine gold.” Look at all the effort that people have gone through. This is a chapter on mining. “Iron is take from the dust, copper is smelted from rock. Man puts an end to darkness.” What does that mean? That means even in ancient times they had ways to bore into the earth and bore into caves to extract minerals.
“Man puts an end to darkness, to the farthest limits searches out the rock in gloom and deep shadow. He sinks a shaft far from habitation, forgotten by the foot; they hand and swing to and fro from men.” They had mining techniques deep in the belly of the earth in ancient times.
“The earth, from it comes food, and underneath it’s turned up as fire. Its rocks are a source of sapphires, its dust contains gold. The path no bird of prey knows, nor has the falcon’s eye caught sight of it. The proud beasts have not trodden it, nor has the fierce lion passed over it. He puts his hand on the flint; he overturns the mountains at the base.” Would you believe that in the time of Job they had the ability to set a fire that blew up a mountain?
“He hews out channels through the rocks, and his eye sees anything precious. He dams up the streams from flowing, and what is hidden he brings to the light.” In other words, man will go to these incredible efforts to find material treasure.
“But” – verse 12 – “where can wisdom be found? Where’s the place of understanding? Man doesn’t know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It’s not in me.’ The sea says, ‘It’s not with me.’ Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it, nor can silver be weighed as its price. It can’t be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx, or sapphire. Gold or glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold. Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned; and the acquisition of wisdom is far above that of pearls. The topaz of Ethiopia can’t equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold. Where then does wisdom come from? And where’s the place of understanding? Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the sky. Abaddon and Death say, ‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’”
Here’s the answer; love this: “God understands its way, and He knows its place. He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When He imparted weight to the wind and meted out the waters by measure, when He set a limit for the rain and a course for the thunderbolt, then He saw it and declared it; He established it and searched it out. And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” Worship God, depart from sin. That’s wisdom. Men will go to unbelievable levels to uncover what collectively in all its material value, can’t buy wisdom.
One final passage, Ephesians 5. What does the New Testament say about this? In Ephesians 5, verse 15, he’s been talking a lot about walking, Paul has: walking in love, walking in unity, walking in light, walking in separation. But here he talks about walking in wisdom. “Be careful how you walk.” That’s daily life, right? It’s a picture of daily life: one step at a time, one day at a time. “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise.” Walk wisely. Walk wisely.
In verse 17: “So then do not be foolish.” Don’t be foolish, walk wisely. If you’re going to do that you have to understand what the will of the Lord is, and you have to function in the power of the Holy Spirit, right? You have to be filled with the Spirit. So filled with the Spirit, understanding the will of the Lord as revealed in the Scripture, you walk wisely. Don’t be a fool. But let me just suggest to you a critical part of this, verse 16, “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
I was reading again the biography of David Brainerd over the last week. David Brainerd lived twenty-nine years, 1700s, had planned to give his life as a missionary. Actually lasted two years and died. But David Brainerd in the brief time that he lived left a legacy of a man consumed to make the most of every single minute of his life, and he left a massive diary which was only a discourse between himself and God, that he wanted all of it destroyed when he died. And some who cared about its legacy wouldn’t allow that to happen, although some of it was destroyed. But what you see in Brainerd in the two years of serve that he gave was this incredible devotion to the reality that he had to buy back time.
Philipp Melanchthon the great reformer, who’s always been a fascinating person to me, had a habit of writing down every day what he did that wasted time. He wrote it down every day, and it was the path of his confession every night. He began by confessing to God the waste of time. No wonder he was powerfully used in the Reformation.
Make the most of your time, the days are full of evil. That’s a broad statement, or it’s a narrow statement. There’s evil around you every day; or you live in an evil world. You can take it in its macro or micro sense. This whole effort at wisdom should be going on every day, every hour. Buy up your time so that you can walk in wisdom.
Wisdom is found with God and nowhere else. That’s where the quest will take you, to God and Him alone. The quest for wisdom begins with penitence and a cry for salvation. And then the quest for wisdom causes the saint to stay on his knees, metaphorically speaking, bowed over the word of God mining out through his life the wisdom that is contained there, redeeming the time, because he lives in an evil day.
Father, we thank You again that You have given us Your word and all its wisdom, a lifetime really of us examining Your truth, Your wonderful word; and a lifetime of living in it, a lifetime of absorbing it and understanding it, preaching it, teaching it, loving it only increases our affection for it, because wisdom is synonymous with You. To know wisdom is to know You. What a privilege. May we never ever be satisfied with the level of our knowledge of You, the infinite and incomparable One. May we pursue that knowledge all our lives. In seeking wisdom we seek You, that we may know You in Your fullness. That’s our prayer we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.