Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part I: Profiting from Proverbs
October 25, 2009
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· Proverbs is dedicated to helping us gain wisdom.
· Wisdom is the adherence to God’s moral order.
· If we don’t submit to God, our wisdom is limited by knowledge.
Objectives of sermon:
· Encourage us to read and internalize Proverbs.
· 084, Leftovers, Study Bible notes
· Wikipedia “Locus of control”
Scripture reading: Proverbs 1:1-7
Introduction to Inscription
We are starting a new series: “Inscription.”
Deuteronomy 11:18-19 18 ¶ Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Q How many of you have read the Bible all the way through? We’ll read the Bible as a congregation in c. 1 ½ years.
· We’ll explore key Biblical themes, and have a much greater understanding of the OT and how it relates to the NT.
· We’ll learn how to “rightly divide the word of truth.”
There will be a weekly reading from Proverbs and Psalms. In order to help you gain the most from Proverbs we are going to talk about how to “profit from Proverbs.”
Tests of life
Proverbs has a special place in my heart and mind. I have read through it more times than I can count and I think it has made a significant impact on my life.
It is an immensely practical book, which is why I need it. It is the street smarts book of the Bible.
Q Think back to your school days (that’s further for some): What is the hardest class you have ever taken?
Greek was mine. I carried flash card everywhere, fell asleep reciting verb endings. If I was sick, I’d skip all my classes except Greek, so I didn’t fall behind.
Q Ever take a test that you weren’t ready for?
Q What if the teacher gave you the answer sheet for 10 minutes?
You know that the test is coming, that you’re ill prepared, but here are all the answers. Would you talk to your friends, doodle on the sheet, or furiously try to memorize it?
REAL LIFE TESTS
Tests don’t end with school; they get more expensive. We are tested a hundred times each day. Rather than failing a class, we lose our job, have broken relationship, gain a bad reputation, and are miserable.
How are we tested? When we have to choose between doing what we want to do and what we should do, when we are criticized, and when we are tempted to check out that hot co-worker.
· These are the tests we need that answer sheet for and God has given us one ... the book of Proverbs.
Whose fault is it?
The first lesson is an underlying assumption that seems obvious, but all too often ignored. Proverbs assumes that we will take personal responsibility for our actions.
Psychology speaks of the “locus of control,” meaning that some people think they don’t have control over their circumstance and other do. If we think we don’t, we won’t try to change things.
· Proverbs assumes we have control over our actions and reactions to situation beyond our control.
Q How often do we do stupid stuff and look for someone to blame?
Once, I was given the job of sweeping the parking lot. With every stroke, the wind would catch the dust and blow it into my face. I got madder at my boss with each stroke, while he watched me, incredulously.
What is tragic is how common this scenario is. We suffer the consequences for our actions, but blame God. This is one of the saddest proverbs in the Bible.
A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD. Proverbs 19:3 NIV
There is no hope for those who only blame others.
Cause and effect
Proverbs is all about cause and effect. We cause things to happen through our words, attitudes, action, or lack of action. We then enjoy, or suffer the effects.
· There are calculable consequences to our actions.
· Proverbs’ purpose is to reveal those calculable consequences.
So many people live as continual victims of their own foolishness because they do not understand cause and effect.
Q How much pain in your life is simply the calculable consequence of ignoring God’s wisdom?
The book of Proverbs is God’s invitation to avoid needless pain, to pass the tests of life with flying colors by helping us understand the cause and effect.
We can choose to believe that our world is random, without clear cause and effect; we are victims of what happens to us. Or we can realize our world was created by God and reflects His order.
· Another word for that order is “wisdom.”
NIV Proverbs 1:1-6 ¶ The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; 3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young-- 5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance-- 6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
We have to be very careful to understand wisdom means. It is not the same thing as knowledge. Knowledge is facts, and a person full of facts can still be foolish.
Here is how the ancients saw it: Within creation there is an underlying order. The ancient Greeks earnestly sought this order, calling it The Logos.
BTW: This is why John wrote:
NIV John 1:1 ¶ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
· Jesus is the embodiment of the wisdom of God.
Here is what it means to be wise: To the extent that conform yourself to this divine order and act in accordance to it, you are wise. To the extent you ignore it, you are foolish.
Q Do you see how easy it is to be a smart fool? Or that a person can have a low IQ but still be wise?
Since wisdom means conforming yourself to God’s order, one thing become obvious: A person doesn’t even have to believe in God to have some measure of wisdom.
· Tony Robbins has made a very good living off of God’s wisdom!
Some non-Christians are much wiser than some Christians. That is not surprising, but it is not the full story either.
Fear of the Lord
Solomon concluded the intro with an interesting statement that we don’t fully appreciate because of its familiarity:
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Why doesn’t it say “knowledge of the LORD”? How does fear of the Lord bring wisdom? First, remember that wisdom is not just knowing, it is knowing and doing.
You see, the fear of the Lord is not terror, but awe, respect, and (most importantly) submission.
· The fundamental choice each of us makes is “My will” or “Thy will” - to fear the Lord means to choose his will.
In order for us to be wise (i.e. acting in alignment with the God’s moral order) you must first be submitted to God. Why? Because we are not as smart as God.
· We lack the perspective to fully understand the moral nature of the creation.
If you are not submitted to God, your wisdom will always be limited by your knowledge, when you fear the Lord, your wisdom is not limited by your knowledge.
If you don’t fear the Lord, you will only obey God’s moral order as long as you understand it, but what you don’t know could fill a very large book.
But if you fear God and trust him, you can be saved from things you didn’t know would hurt you.
· I didn’t have sex before marriage because “the Bible told me so,” now I understand how damaging sex before marriage is.
Proverbs 3:5-6 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
· This does not mean “don’t think.”
· It means that when what you think is right differs from what he says, go with what he says.
Profiting from Proverbs
I want to finish by giving some principles for understanding and some methods for applying Proverbs.
1) Proverbs give reliable principles, not absolute promises.
Proverbs gives the likely outcome of various actions and attitudes. They are trustworthy and reliable to live by, but we will get in trouble if we view them as divine guarantees.
Proverbs 22:6 NIV Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
If we train raise our children in the ways of God, they will probably remain in them. If we do not, they will probably follow the ways of the world. But they still have free will.
BTW: We are in need of Sunday School teachers.
· The book of Job was written to answer the question “What about when it doesn’t work?”
2) Proverbs are worded to be memorable and concise, not exhaustive and thorough.
Highly nuanced, long, detailed statements may be more accurate, but they are hard to follow and even harder to remember.
We could say: Men and women who are lack understanding are unlikely to learn from their mistakes and errors in judgment. Rather they’re inclined to suffer the painful consequences, and then repeat the same error, continuing in a dysfunctional cycle.
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. Proverbs 26:11 NIV
Q Which version will you remember in an hour?
God wanted Proverbs to be memorable, and usable, but that comes at the expense of accuracy.
3) Proverbs must be interpreted in the light of its genre and all Scripture.
Don’t over-exegete Proverbs! Understand their purpose and read them within the context of the Bible.
A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds. Proverbs 17:8 NIV
The Bible isn’t condoning bribery! Other proverbs expressly condemn it. Sometime Proverbs makes observations on human behavior without comment. And because Proverbs was written in another culture, some of them can be a little difficult.
· A good study Bible is invaluable (NIV and ESV are great).
All this is useful stuff, but only if you read and apply it. Here are some hints:
When we start the series, you’ll read about 10-15 proverbs every week. In the meantime, how would you first like to get into the habit of reading every day while reading Proverbs twice through?
Q How many chapters are in Proverbs?
Q How many days are in most months?
That’s a useful coincidence! On any day of the month you read the chapter that coincides with that day.
As you read, simply make a note of which proverbs strike you. I like to circle them in my Bible. Better yet, write them down, and carry them with you, memorize them. Dwell on them.
· Try to make them a part of your way of thinking.
· I put them into my screen saver.
Here are the ones I currently in my “hopper.”
Proverbs 20:3 It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.
Proverbs 26:15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
Proverbs 18:13 He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.
Finally, turn them into prayers. As I see these, I pray for them to become a part of who I am.
This is my personal and pastor plea: Don’t suffer needlessly. There are some things we can’t control, but much of our suffering is the result of our own foolishness.
1. Fear the Lord – submit to him and his ways even when you don’t understand.
2. Take personal responsibility.
3. Make Proverbs part of you so that you can understand cause and effect, the wisdom of God’s divine order.
NIV Proverbs 22:3 A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.
· It’s great to learn from mistakes, even better if you can learn without making the mistakes.
Understanding cause and effect and consequences can be one of the most effective deterrents to sin – how many of us would still sin if we had to suffer all of consequences beforehand?
· Proverbs is all about helping you foresee the consequences.
Q & A
Next week begins short series on the gifts of the Spirit. My purpose is that we better understand the Holy Spirit and more earnestly seek his work in our lives and in the church.
· E-mail me your questions!