Staunton Mennonite Church
9:1Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. 2She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 3She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 4“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
7Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse; whoever rebukes the wicked gets hurt. 8A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you. 9Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.
10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. 11For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. 12If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
13The foolish woman is loud; she is ignorant and knows nothing. 14She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the high places of the town, 15calling to those who pass by,
who are going straight on their way, 16“You who are simple, turn in here!” And to those without sense she says, 17“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” 18But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
Sonya and I went to the Augusta County Fair this past Friday night. It was an interesting time with the pig races, chainsaw wood carving, rides, and animals. One of the most interesting shows was a family that performed a number of circus-style tricks. They roller skated on an elevated platform, performed flips and twists on a trampoline, the woman swung from some ropes about 20 feet in the air, and there was some serious juggling.
This juggling made me think about when I was a young boy and my dad wanted to connect with his children. He decided one day that he was going to help us learn how to juggle and he came home with a book on juggling. The book was divided into lessons and I will share with you lesson number one today. The first lesson for learning how to juggle is to take three balls, hold them in your hands…and drop them to the floor. Get used to that sound; get used to picking them up because you are going to be doing that often.
That’s the kind of lesson that only an experienced juggler could give. And this reveals an interesting aspect of learning: that wisdom is often passed on from a learned person to a less experienced person. Whether it is through a written book, an educational program, or face to face learning, wisdom is best acquired by learning from a more experienced person. That is why we have teachers and that is why we have schools.
This week the doors of Staunton City Schools will be flung wide open. The smell of chalk dust and pencil shavings will be in the air. Sloppy Joes and chicken nuggets will be cooking in the cafeteria, and the students and teachers will reluctantly return to school.
We go to school to learn from a more experienced person. We have probably all at some point in our lives felt as if we knew more than our teachers, but the truth is, we are sending our children off to school to sit at the feet of those who have studied, learned, who have experienced, and in some cases mastered a subject.
Today on this “Back to School Sunday” I would like to look at wisdom. Perhaps the first thing that we need to do is to define wisdom. Wisdom is essentially the ability to know what is right and what is wrong. This could mean that you are knowledgeable in historical facts, mathematics, science, and in issues of politics and justice. So who wouldn’t want wisdom? Today I would like to look at four aspects of wisdom. I would like to look at why we need wisdom, the wrong reasons to seek wisdom, the right reasons to seek wisdom, and how we are to seek wisdom.
Why we need wisdom
It is kind of funny the way our society tends to see things in an overly simplified way. Something is right or wrong, good or evil. Our television shows and movies tend to draw this distinct line as well. In the old Westerns, you always could tell the good cowboy from the bad cowboy by the color of his hat. There are two new movies just coming out, GI Joe and Transformers, and even without seeing these movies I am sure that it is clear who the “bad guy” is and who the “good guy” is. But life isn’t always that easy. Not everything fits neatly into these two different categories of right or wrong, even though we may want them to.
Take for instance the proposed healthcare reform bill. I get more emails from people telling me why I should write a letter to my governing officials telling them why they should or should not vote for the proposed bill. I hear it both ways from both sides. I hear Democrats saying we should vote for the bill and Democrats saying that we should not. I hear Republicans saying that we should vote for it and Republicans saying that we should vote against is. I found it almost humorous to walk through the buildings Friday at the fair and find a group of democratic supporters in their both encouraging people to vote for a particular candidate to so that the healthcare reform could pass. And immediately behind them was a booth for the Augusta County Tea Party who were encouraging people to vote for candidates so that the bill would fail. Don’t you just love county fairs?
Now I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, that isn’t my style. The point that I am trying to make is that what is right and what is wrong is not always that easy to discern. We need wisdom. And I will be honest with you, I don’t have enough wisdom to even have an opinion on the proposed healthcare reform. But I do have enough wisdom to know that I can’t believe everything that I hear about it. But my ignorance is no excuse. Wise decisions by you and by me will affect the lives of thousands of others.
When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:16) he instructed them to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. He is instructing them to know right from wrong, and to make the right decision. And by making the right decision, they will be innocent. That means that it is not enough to simply know what is right, but to do what is right.
So we need wisdom and we all have at least a little bit of room left in our noggins for a bit more. We should seek wisdom and we should seek knowledge. And not only in matters of healthcare, but in all matters so that we might be informed well enough to know God’s will.
The wrong reasons
Philippians 2:3 tells us that we are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Unfortunately I believe that is a big reason why people seek wisdom. They want something out of it. Wisdom is often seen as the gate through which one must walk in order to gain access to bigger and better things. When people seek wisdom, whether that be through higher education or personal study, it seems like many are doing so to try to get more respect from society or greater social status, more money, more power, more respect, better jobs, titles or even just more letters after their name.
Last Sunday Loren Horst shared the story of Richard Keeler, who has been serving in Trinidad for a long time in a number of capacities. Richard, a medical doctor by trade, went to Trinidad in order to work at eradicating Hanson’s Disease, a modern form of leprosy. Today Richard serves a pastor of the Sangre Grande church in Trinidad. Loren said that when someone introduces Richard as the Reverend Doctor Richard Keeler, he replies, “It’s just Richard.” That’s a wise and humble man.
Our motivation for doing things is very important. This makes me think about the parents of young children that I see day in and day out at the park. We live just two blocks away from Gypsy Hill Park and Sonya and I walk there frequently. Often times throughout the summer we will take in a Little League baseball game or two during our walks.
I am a big supporter of youth sports. It gets them out to exercise, make friends, builds self confidence, etc. But we have all seen that parent. That parent, usually a dad, is out there yelling at their kid, coaching from the bleachers, yelling at the umpire, complaining about the calls. There have even been fights (not at our park, I hope) that have broken out when a parent charges on to the field because their child gets called out.
I see a parent like this and I tend to assume that they are trying to live their lives through their children. Or maybe they want to walk into the neighborhood diner and have someone give them praise for what their children have done. Fathers, you don’t need to taunt the 10-year-old opposing pitcher. We can take a good thing like little league baseball and make it a bad thing because of our bad motives. And when we take the quest for wisdom and seek wisdom for the wrong reasons, greed, wealth, social status, tiles, then we are taking a good thing and doing it for the wrong reasons. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
The right reasons
In 1 Kings Chapter three we find perhaps the most familiar story about wisdom in all of the Bible, that is the story of King Solomon receiving the gift of wisdom from God. Solomon is the son of King David and Solomon assumes responsibility over the kingdom after his father’s death.
One day as Solomon is making an offering the LORD speaks to him and tells Solomon that anything that he asks of God will be given to him. Well Solomon recognizes that the biggest obstacle he is facing right now is that he is a king and he doesn’t know too much about his new job. Solomon says in verses 7-9, “Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours.”
And if you know the story, you know that God is well pleased with Solomon because he didn’t ask for anything for himself. He didn’t ask for riches or a long life or even death of an enemy. No, he asked for wisdom, and he didn’t ask for wisdom so that he could gain respect, make money, or anything that would help him out individually. Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern the people.
That seems pretty unselfish to me. Solomon asked for wisdom so that he could help others. I like that; I like that a lot. When I was in college I knew a lot of people that were going to school because they wanted to get a job that required the least amount of work and made the most amount of money. “What’s in it for me?” they seemed to be asking. I want to be a lawyer so I can take off every Friday to play golf. I want to be an engineer so I can travel to exotic places and get ideas from great architecture. I want to be a Dr. because they make a lot of money and society looks up to doctors.
Yes, that is true. Doctors do make a lot of money and society does seem to look up to doctors. But how about being a doctor so that you can, I don’t know, HELP PEOPLE?! Wisdom is great. I don’t want to deter anyone from seeking to learn more every day of your life. But if the wisdom that you are seeking is for no purpose other than to make yourself rich or to make people like you, then you are missing the point. God was pleased with Solomon when he sought after wisdom so that he could help others. And I don’t think that has changed over the last three thousand years.
How to seek wisdom
Wisdom isn’t hard to find. We all have it, perhaps some at different levels than others, but we are all wise. We have learned things from the day that we were born and I hope that we continue to learn until the day that we die.
When you were born, you didn’t know how to tie your shoes or even speak. You didn’t know how to drive a car and do long division (I still don’t know how to do long division). But we learn to do these things by receiving instruction from others and by repetition. The hardest thing about acquiring wisdom is making the decision to do it.
Our scripture for this morning from Proverbs describes two different women. One of them is called wisdom and the other is called Folly. Wisdom has prepared a wonderful meal, the table is set, and she has even sent out her servants so that those who are “simple” will know that this is the place to come and gain knowledge. Wisdom invites passers by to “Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of the understanding.”
But Folly sits at her house and yells out an invitation as well. She sends out an invitation for “stolen water” and “food eaten in secret”. The phrase “stolen water” is a reference to Proverbs 5:15 when the metaphor of drinking from another’s cistern is used to describe adultery. The food eaten in secret could be a reference to eating non-kosher foods where nobody could see you. The point is that Folly is inviting those that don’t know any better to enter into a life of sexual immorality and breaking the Torah.
Wisdom is out there, my friends. It is out there like a meal that has been prepared and is ready for us. We just have to go after it. We have to enter into wisdom’s home rather than entering into folly’s home. The problem is that folly is so much more enticing. The pleasures of the flesh always seem more appealing than the fruit of the spirit do from the outside. But as verse 18 tells us, death resides with these things. We have a choice, choose to be wise, to know right from wrong, to be a true follower of God, or choose to turn a blind eye to the truth and enjoy the pleasures that this world has to offer.
Verse ten tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. What in the world does that mean? Well, when the Bible talks about fearing the Lord, it isn’t like fearing the boogey man or being afraid of heights. It is more like reverence or respect. To fear the Lord is to recognize that God is God and that we are not. We are less than God: less powerful, less knowledgeable…just less. Fearing the Lord means knowing your place as a created being. You were made by God and even if only for that reason, we should have a sense of respect and reverence for God that we give no created being. That is what it means to fear the Lord.
Once we fear the Lord and know our place within the created order, that is humbling. Recognizing that God is God and we are not will allow us to approach God with humility to learn at the feet of the master.
So I come back to these tennis balls that my father tried to teach us to juggle as little kids. It would be great if I could pick them up and juggle for you right now. That would be an illustration that you wouldn’t soon forget. But gaining knowledge is a lot like learning to juggle. The first step is to drop the balls on the floor, recognizing that you don’t know it all, recognizing that you still have a lot to learn. The next step is to seize the opportunity before you to eat and drink the wisdom set before you like a meal. All the wisdom in the world will not help you unless you eat and drink it, internalize it. Food will not fuel your body from the outside, wisdom will not guide you unless you gain it. You will never juggle until you throw that first ball in the air. And this reveals another important aspect of wisdom. All of the knowledge and wisdom in the world is pretty useless unless you put it into action. What good is it to know how to juggle if you never take the opportunity to throw those balls in the air?
We know that Solomon had the opportunity to put his new-found wisdom to the test in 1 Kings 3. After Solomon receives his wisdom from God two women approach him, both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon says, “Cut the baby in half so that both can have a portion of the child.” And the true mother says no, let the other woman have him. I would rather he have a chance to live, even if it is not with me, thus revealing to Solomon that this woman is the true mother.
As we go back to school, whether that be as a teacher, a student, a parent, or students in the school of life, let us remember that wisdom is a gift that God gives to us so that we might be a blessing to others. Wisdom is given to us so that we can know right from wrong; wisdom is given to us so that we might be able to help others. The table of wisdom is set before us. I invite you to eat and drink deeply. And remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.