Does anyone doubt we live in fearful times? Can we not gather from civic unrest, economic uncertainty, and the threat of a pandemic that these are very turbulent times? People have lost a sense of peace and security. I’m sure you’ve noticed their caution. For example, friends of mine have developed a new handless pandemic “handshake,” elbow to elbow, lightly touched.
It’s in this context that Northside is beginning a series from a part of the Bible called Wisdom Literature. This kind of literature (or “literary genre”) is usually identified with the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Job, and various Psalms.
Northside’s decision is encouraging because usually Wisdom Literature is ignored, or Bible teachers treat its small, pithy sayings in books like Proverbs like a pickle on a hamburger, something to give a zesty taste to the meatier portions of their doctrinal messages.
However, might we suggest that there is something more than what first appears to the eye, something that hints at a hidden depth which speaks directly to our times in these tiny little sayings? Listen to these promises made from Proverbs:
- “Whoever listens to me (wisdom) will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (Proverbs 1:33).
- “Wherever there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction” (Proverbs 29:18).
- “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her and she will watch over you” (Proverbs 4:6).
Promises like these deserve a careful hearing! So, as we move through Proverbs, let us keep in mind some key facts concerning the nature of this literature and its benefits to God’s people.
First, Proverbs teach us how things work, how God has put them together. Like a curious child pulling apart a toy to see how it works, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and other Wisdom Literature explain how God’s creation works.
Wisdom is the beginning of the beginning. It was the first thing created. Then God used wisdom to put the world together. If we follow wisdom, it aligns our lives with how God created things to work. Listen to Proverbs’ own testimony concerning itself,
“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago at the very beginning, when the world came to be” (Proverbs 8:22-23).
Second, if wisdom instructs us in the how-to’s of our relationships, then it is also the language of discipleship. We are to be like Him. To be a follower of Jesus, Creator God, it is imperative to follow His wisdom. Wisdom calls us to the good path, and we are to be “innocent as doves but wise as serpents” (Mathew 10:16).
Third, the Wisdom Literature will tell you that you can find wisdom in a variety of places. Proverbs tells us that wisdom is in the created world as well as in the Scriptures. Therefore, a person can find wisdom in the following:
- Hustle and bustle of everyday life. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out” (Proverbs 1:20-21).
- Observation of this world. For example, a lazy person is told to go watch the ant (which stores its provisions in the summer and gathers its food at harvest) in order to become wise (Proverbs 6:6-8).
- Instruction from those who are wise. “Listen my son” appears 1,000 times in Proverbs. Learn from the wise who are around you.
- But the most direct way to discover wisdom is through God’s Word. Proverbs is filled with observations captured for quick recall when most needed. God called Solomon to put these sayings in a book for His people to read and meditate on night and day.
However, do not think that any of wisdom’s ways are easy. Wisdom demands a responsibility on our part to attain her.
“If you call out for insight … look for it as for silver (aka, hard work) … then you will understand the fear of the Lord … for the Lord gives wisdom” (Proverbs 2:3-6).
Did you catch the irony in that Proverb? You work hard for it, and then God gives it to you. It echoes Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is the Lord who works within you” (Phil 2:12). We seek wisdom just to discover God is more than willing to show us the way to make the right decisions for deeper, more intimate relationships, and to give us the correct answer to our questions.
Fourth, if we are to make wise decisions, we must run every decision through the framework of three concerns: righteousness, equity, and justice. We have to ask these questions before decisions are made:
- Is it right? Does it create a right and loving relationship?
- Does it practice equity or a fairness, considering all sides in the matter?
- And does it accomplish justice?
If any of these concerns are ignored, chaos follows. Wisdom demands we filter every decision through these three questions for business, children, parents, friends, money, work, family, friends, enemies, and the physical world around us.
Fifth, Jesus is wisdom. Wisdom is set in the context of the Gospel. Wisdom saturates the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament. Jesus was a priest, prophet and king, but he taught as a sage with the methods of a sage. For example, listen to his wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount:
- “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
- “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).
- “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2).
Finally, as we begin this new series keep in mind that God desires for us to live wisely in our world. Wisdom is calling loudly to us from every corner and protesting when we ignore her calling. God is the Good Shepherd (John 9-10). He wants to lead us into the green pastures beside quiet water. And though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. Listen intently. Jesus and his wisdom provide us the peace and security we need in our troubling times.