Wisdom for the Good Life, I (Inscription 43)
Proverbs: Living the Good Life
February 20, 2011
Scripture reading: Proverbs 1:1-7
Wisdom for The good life
Today we enter the “wisdom literature,” (Job to Song of Solomon). The Biblical wisdom literature tends to be very down to earth, even when it gets philosophical.
We are going to approach them as a four-part series (or series within a series) that I am calling “Wisdom for the Good Life”:
1. Proverbs: Living the Good Life
2. Job: When the Good Life Doesn’t Work
3. Ecclesiastes: The Good Life is Meaningless
4. Song of Solomon: The Good Sex-Life
Prayer: You are very interested in our daily life...
What is The Good Life?
What is “The Good Life”? Is that anything like “The High Life”? if so, I want nothing to do with it. What do you think of when you think of the good life?
· Retiring at 40, on the beach, drinking out of coconut?
· Being the top of your career?
· Winning the lotto?
· Having a hot young, compliant wife?
· Self-help, self-actualization, “The Secret,” things like that?
I want to be happy!
Q What do all these things have in common?
They are all pursuing happiness. And I agree with them on that. In fact, my biggest problem all of these definitions is that they are too half-hearted in their pursuit of joy.
· Any time you feel any joy, it is a reflection of God, no matter how weak of corrupter.
Q Didn’t I say last week that one of the surest ways to become miserable is to pursue happiness?
Looking back, I wish I would have been clearer – what I was trying to say is that we are really stupid, and we usually pursue happiness in really stupid ways.
...the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.
Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Happiness is actually a really good thing. Everyone wants to be happy, that is a God-given desire. In the words of Lewis, we were made for infinite happiness.
The problem isn’t that we seek happiness, but that we seek happiness in things that, at best, are weak and temporary, and, at worst, destructive.
The Good Life
Here is what I mean by “The Good Life,” it is to pursue the happiness that God gives, in ways that bring him glory and bring us lasting joy and happiness.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Ok, I got it. By ‘The Good Life,’ you mean Heaven. So I need to give up everything that makes me happy here on earth so that I can have some eternal reward. Nice. Forgive me if I don’t seem too excited.”
· No, that’s not what I mean. I mean, yes, Heaven, but no, you don’t have to wait for Heaven to be happy.
My grand theory of everything
Here’s my foundational perspective on God, life, and joy:
God is everything we really want, the source of all that is good and pleasing. I don’t think I need to prove this with verses, it is evident in throughout the Bible.
At the same time, God has given us many reflections of his glory and joy: a family, friends, a sunset, a good meal. These are all things he invented for us to enjoy. (Also throughout the Bible.)
From what I see in the Bible, esp. as I spend more and more time in the OT, I see God’s preference is for us to enjoy this life as much as we can without distracting us from the next.
· Two vital points: Preference and “without distracting us.”
Few things delight me like watching my daughters play, but I will break it up to have them do there chores. Why? Because I know how vital responsibility is for their future happiness.
· “Reflection” is the key word: Even as we enjoy these things, they are meant to draw us to him as the source above all else.
Q How much more will I stop them if their play involves my cooking knives? I want them to make to their future!
And that is what sin is, things you may think you want, but that destroys you, your relationship with God, and others.
To sum up: The Biblical idea of the good life is that by obeying God we may have the most happiness possible in this life without being distracted from the next, that is to say, from God.
· This doesn’t mean things are easy (many have faced great hardships), and this doesn’t always work, as Job will show us.
Proverbs and the Good Life
The book of Proverbs is all about very practical advice for living the Good Life. It’s all about “Do this to be happy” and “Don’t do this or you will be miserable.”
Proverbs 1:29-33 29 Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, 30 since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
Where’s the Gospel? (A caveat)
Very, very important: This is different from righteousness in the NT sense. Proverbs doesn’t talk about grace, but Bible is very clear that we can never be good enough to earn God’s favor.
· You could do nearly everything in Proverbs and still be lost and dying in your sins.
If the Bible were a car, Proverbs would be the tires, because this is where the rubber meets the road.
· It isn’t the engine, giving the power to live it.
· It isn’t the steering, telling where you your final goal.
So far, I’ve just talked about what the good life is, but not how to get it. There are 100’s of life changing principles in there, but here are four key ones.
1. Seek Wisdom
The core theme and purpose of Proverbs is wisdom, as we saw in the opening verse. But wisdom and IQ are very different: I’ve known smart fools and people who are dimwitted yet wise.
· Wisdom is the ability to understand and obey the moral laws of our world.
When I say laws, I don’t mean in the sense of rules, I mean in the sense of governing principles.
Q What do we mean when we speak of “The Laws of Gravity”?
We mean that, barring interference, things fall when you drop them, that lighter things are attracted to heavier things. That’s just the way it works.
· In the same way, our world is filled with moral principles that govern our life and we ignore them to our peril.
Proverbs is a collection of these principles. Sometimes they are short reminders of cause and effect:
NIV Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Sometimes they are humorous observations on “how things are”:
Proverbs 27:14 If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.
And sometimes they boil down big ideas into memorable phrases:
Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Q Do you keep doing the same dumb, destructive things? Guess what, you are a fool. You better figure out why.
You need to seek wisdom by getting these proverbs into your head. You may not be able to use them now, but God will use them to help you understand the moral law down the road.
My habit of reading Proverbs consistently for the past 15-20 years has been one of the most important things I have done to avoid needless pain.
· Even this week, God has shown me two major things in my life by recalling proverbs to mind.
Fear of the Lord
Q Now, is it possible for humans to figure out parts of the moral law without God? YES; there have been many wise humans.
Q Can we figure out all of it? NO.
Q Is it possible that we could get it wrong? That stuff we think is wise is actually very foolish? YES
Here is the foundation of wisdom, of understanding and following the moral law:
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Hopefully most of you understand that fear of the Lord does not mean abject terror, but awe, respect, and (most importantly) submission. (Chronicles of Narnia – not a tame lion.)
Q But what does that have to do with wisdom?
This is how we need to think: 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.
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.
That being the case, the first principle of living the good life is to spend time seeking wisdom, in Proverbs, in the Bible, as well as other places it is found, not all of them are Christian.
· Read, listen, and learn; but make sure it is measured against “The Fear of the Lord.”
2. Develop healthy relationships
Q Which brings the most joy and happiness: A fulfilling career, having plenty of money, or your relationships?
You can have those first two things, but if you come home to a miserable marriage and rebellious kids, you will not be happy:
Proverbs 17:1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
After telling us to pursue wisdom, the next biggest category of proverbs are those telling us how to have healthy relationships, and none more than marriage.
Q What do you suppose is the biggest piece of marital advice?
Stay faithful to your wife. Again, Proverbs is very practical, not so much principles of “Love and Respect,” but simply, “keep it in your pants.”
· By this one piece of advice, it addresses a myriad of causes.
Speaking of the good life: Adultery is driven by this lie – I will be happier if I sleep with this other person rather than making my marriage better. Here’s Proverbs’ advice:
Proverbs 5:1-5 My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, 2 that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. 3 For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; 4 but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.
Q Why does verse 3 say “for”? What’s the connection between paying attention and the lips dripping of honey?
You need to be thoroughly prepared before temptation. In the moment, sin does “drip honey.” Unless you have already immersed yourself in the wisdom’s cause and effect, you’ll be easy prey.
· Micah noted that everyone says “I didn’t mean to,” yes, that’s problem, you didn’t mean not to either.
Affairs never start in the hotel room, they start long before. Prepare in advance by building a happy marriage (attend Marriage RX) and staying far away from the danger zone.
Quickly, Proverbs also provides wisdom for other relationships:
Proverbs 19:18 Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.
· Pay now or they will pay later.
Proverbs 12:26 A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
· It’s moral law: Friends affect each other, and the bad is more likely to affect the good.
Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
· Many acquaintances are next to useless, you need real friends.
Proverbs 25:16-17 If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit. Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house – too much of you, and he will hate you.
Q Are you thinking of sliding this under your neighbor’s door?
Q Is there anyone wanting to slide it under yours?
3. Work hard
Another frequent theme in Proverbs: Work hard. Work is not defined by whether or not you receive a pay check.
1. Students at their studies (learning discipline)
2. Motherhood – we are church that respects the stay at home mom. That is a tough job, and few guys can handle it!
3. If you are retired, then God has blessed you with the opportunity to bless others by working hard for free.
· The American Dream that we should work hard, retire, and sit on our butts is self-centered, unbiblical, and stupid.
Here are some proverbs wisdom for working hard:
Proverbs 26:15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
I used to chuckle at this guy, until I looked at all my unfinished projects. Here is something you don’t want to hear: Procrastination is a moral issue – it’s laziness.
· Don’t say “I’m just that way.” I am that way, ADD and all that; I know it’s harder, but not impossible.
NIV Proverbs 28:19 He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.
Then there are the dreamers, who go from one scheme to the next. Why is it that everyone else can see the pattern but they can’t? It is easier to dream than to work.
NIV Proverbs 13:4 The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.
Ambition is a good thing; wanting a reward for your labor is a good thing. But there is a balance:
NIV Proverbs 23:4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.
In contrast to the American ideal that enough is never enough (which is destructive to the individual, family, community, not to mention the environment), wisdom knows when to stop.
4. be teachable.
Finally, be teachable. If you are at all familiar with Proverbs, you know it’s not fond of the fool (moral, not intellectual). There’s one passage that has seven proverbs about how bad fools are (including the “vomit” one), then ends with:
NIV Proverbs 26:12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Are you wise in your own eyes? Here’s the litmus test: How do you respond to criticism?
NIV Proverbs 9:8 Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
Which response better describes you? If you get mad, deflect the rebuke with attacks, ignore it because they didn’t say it nicely, then which one are you?
· I am not saying that you need to follow every piece of advice or heed every criticism, but you do need to listen.
People who are wise are able to become wiser because they are trainable, but people who think that they are smart will stay stupid because they are not willing to learn.
To sum it all up: Do you want the good life? Do you want to enjoy this life as much as possible as you pursue God? Do you want to avoid suffering? Then fear God and seek wisdom.
· Proverbs is like drinking from a fire hose; hopefully several of the proverbs hit you between the eyes.
What you need to do is spend time in Proverbs, read it on a regular basis. I shoot for daily, half a chapter. As you soak this stuff in and pray about it, it will change you.
Q & A