Scripture: Proverbs 1:1-7; I Kings 3:16-28
Wisdom is the knowledge of God's world + the knack for fitting into it.
Our house in California was near a highway frontage road. The speed limit was 45 mph. One day a boy suddenly whipped through a stop sign on the other side of the road.
He took a quick look over his shoulder. But he must not have seen me.
Without warning, he zipped across- right into the path of my car.
I reacted instantly and hit the brakes. Our car went into a hard skid. But too late. About ten feet before the car could stop, we hit the bike.
The kid flew headlong over the handlebars. The impact badly bent his back tire. Fortunately, even without a helmet, the poor boy only had a few bruises + scratches. Still, I got a sick feeling when I thought that he could have been severely injured.
Later I realized this scary crash offered quite a contrast between wisdom and folly.
Obviously the boy was foolish. Not wearing a helmet put him at risk.
Going through a side-street stop sign at full speed was dangerous.
And only giving a quick glance over his shoulder was even more dangerous.
As Proverbs 8:36 notes: whoever fails to find wisdom harms himself.
On the flip side- though this isn’t always the case- my actions proved wise.
For one, I noticed that my tires were getting a bit worn and just had new tires put on.
Second, I knew there was a trailer park along the road with kids, so I was alert.
And I was honoring the speed limit. Those things together may have saved his life.
At the heart of Christian faith and life is the gospel: the good news of Jesus Christ.
Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins and give us the gift of eternal life.
In turn God wants his children to be wise. God wants his people to grow up wise.
God conveys his wisdom all through scripture.
He even inspired a whole collection of wise sayings in the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs 8 actually pictures wisdom as a grand lady- calling out to people at the city gates.
She says: I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge + discretion.
Our text says: for gaining wisdom + instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair.
Here’s a neat definition of wisdom by Neal Plantinga, my favorite seminary professor:
Wisdom is the knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it.
The knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it.
Then this elaboration: The wise person knows creation. She knows it boundaries+limits, understands its laws + rhythms, discerns its times + seasons, respects its great dynamics. The wise glean their insights both from the Bible and from life in general. They know that the earth is the Lord's in all its fullness. They know some of the patterns and design of the creation, because they know some of the ways and habits of the Creator.
In turn the wise person gives in to God and gives in to God's creation.
The wise accommodate themselves to reality. They are always "in order".
They go with the flow. They tear along the perforated edges.
They attempt their harvests in season. They work the right way.
This is why the Bible often connects righteousness with wisdom. They are close cousins.
As they live right, the wise live well. They avoid accidents. They prosper.
They flourish at work and home; physically + emotionally; in relationships + hobbies. Wisdom is knowledge of God's world and the knack of fitting into the world.
I Kings 3 gives a colorful example. One day two prostitutes appear before King Solomon. Here is the case: they both lived in the same house.
And they both gave birth to a baby boy within a few days.
But then one night one of them accidentally lay on her baby and suffocated it.
In the middle of the night she discovered her baby was dead.
In that awful moment she switched her dead baby with her housemate's living baby.
In the morning the housemate recognized the dead baby at her side wasn’t hers.
But the conniving mother denies it. So, whose word do you take?
Now we see an awesome display of wisdom. Solomon listens carefully.
He summarizes the situation. Then, to their testimony Solomon adds his knowledge of human nature- about a mother's nature in particular.
Solomon knows a mother will protect her child's life at all costs. So first: knowledge.
The second component of Solomon's wisdom is good judgment about what to do.
Good judgment involves processing information: making connections,
seeing distinctions, figuring out the best way to go. Now Solomon comes up with a plan.
Vs 24: the king said "Bring me a sword." He then gave an order:
Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.
The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son
and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!"
Just like that the case was solved! The baby was restored to its true mother. Solomon's wisdom carried the day.
We know that Solomon foreshadowed the wisdom of a future king.
Matthew 22 records an incident with striking similarities.
The Pharisees are seeking to lay a trap for Jesus. So they asked him:
Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
By the way, today the popular answer is: Pay as little tax as possible.
Now, the religious leaders thought this was a foolproof trap. If Jesus said: Yes, pay taxes to Caesar, then he’d lose the respect of Jews who resented the Roman occupation.
But if Jesus said: No, don't pay taxes to Caesar, then he would be arrested as a rebel.
But Jesus answers: Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. Jesus deftly side-stepped their trap. And the people were amazed at his wisdom.
In Matthew 12 Jesus said: The Queen of the South...came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
The wisdom of Solomon foreshadowed the wonderful wisdom of Jesus.
Proverbs 9 says: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
If fearing the Lord is the beginning, then following the Lord is the heart of wisdom.
To simply trust and obey Jesus in all his wisdom will spare you from much foolishness. To simply trust and obey Jesus is not just right; it’s wise.
Now it’s fitting to focus on some practical aspects of wisdom.
Wise people gain the knowledge needed for wisdom.
Foolish people are often unaware of what's going on around them.
Wise people notice things; they pick up on things.
As Lewis Smedes writes: wisdom sees fine details that can make a huge difference-
a slight shift in someone's tone of voice, a gesture, a falling of the eyes, a shift of emphasis, a change of color. A discerning person notices the links between what happened last week and what is happening today.
A discerning person sees things going on beneath the surface.
Wisdom also has the knack to recognize limits and adapt.
Wisdom recognizes how much sleep you need and makes sure to get it.
Wisdom recognizes financial limitations and refuses to go deep into debt.
Wisdom recognizes growing age and physical limitations and adjusts activities:
no more playing softball, no more doing all the yardwork, no more living on your own.
On a 1-10 scale of wisdom, how would you rate yourself? Are you growing in wisdom?
Parents: families need wise parents. Kids need parents who know when to say keep it up, when to offer a shoulder to cry on, when to give a stern word of correction;
when to stick to boundaries and when to flex a bit,
when to give second chance and when to say: That’s enough!
Young adults need wisdom about themselves.
You need wisdom about your talents and interests- how God has designed you.
You need good judgment about what will fit you: accounting, computers or construction.
Just like with clothes, a good fit in life is important. It leads to success and satisfaction.
The church needs wise elders and deacons and pastors.
We need leaders with the wisdom to know when to speak and when to listen.
We need leaders with the wisdom to know the story behind an opinion expressed.
Leaders who see when a ministry is bearing good fruit and should be cultivated;
when a program needs to be pruned to remain fruitful; or when its time to pull the plug.
Faith Church is in a time of significant transition. What is our vision moving forward?
What will it take to fulfill our mission? What pastor may have the fitting gifts to help us?
May God grant us his wisdom as we seek to build up his church and kingdom.
I’ll close with this: when we think of people, what do we tend to think about?
He’s smart. She’s pretty. He’s funny. She’s a songbird. He’s successful. She’s really sweet.
But how often do we think: he or she is wise- really wise!
Brothers + sisters: we have the example of Solomon. We have the teaching + life of Jesus.
And we have the power of the Holy Spirit. May you and I be people of godly wisdom.