By Daniel Villa
All of us carry with us the collective wisdom passed on to us by the people who’ve been most significant in our lives. We’ve picked this wisdom up from parents, friends, teachers, leaders, relatives, barbers, and just about everybody … all the people who shaped and molded us as we were growing up. Some of this wisdom is very helpful. But some of is just plain wrong. I now realize that some of the wisdom I picked up growing up was plain wrong. For instance, one of my family’s mottos growing up was, “Look out for number one.” By saying we need to look out for number one, we meant that in the end, each person has to look out for his or her own needs first. Looking out for number one means I make sure my needs are met, and then I’ll start thinking about your needs. I tried to live by that wisdom through my high school years. But when I got married I figured out that this was pretty bad advice. I soon learned that two people who live by that motto can’t sustain a long term relationship of mutual commitment. By the time I started having kids, I realized that it was impossible to live a wise life by embracing that motto.
Another one of our family mottos was, (this one I learned from my older brother) “Kung May Gusot, May Lusot.” (If There’s a Problem, Find a Way-Out). Early in life, we learned to lie; to come up reasons to justify misdemeanors – from simple ones to terrible ones. I remember at one time being caught stealing. It was the first time I joined some kids in stealing. We were all up on a macopa tree when the owner suddenly showed up with a long bolo in hand. All the other boys jump out of the tree – 24 feet high. I was left alone, scared, but still managed to run after being recognized by the owner who was a member of the Wesleyan church – good man. I learned that day, that finding an easy way out did not really work. I learned that denying your mistake does not pay.
I had a meeting with a brother this week talking about my future involvement in a project intended to help Foreign Domestic Workers when someone called up seeking for help. She was just terminated. Her offense: using her mobile after work. She was caught by her employer making a call inside her room. It could not have been that bad had she not been warned earlier, and signed an agreement that she would not be making telephone calls while in that house 2 weeks earlier. She did not listen and thought she would not be caught. But she was. And now she’s out of job.
What kind of wisdom did people pass on to you? What mottos from coaches, parents, and teachers have shaped and molded you into what you are today? Some of it was probably pretty good, and some of it was probably wrong. Part of being an adult is sorting through that stuff, keeping the truly wise, and rejecting the unwise.
Today we start a new series called WISE LIVING. In this series we’re going to look at God’s wisdom from the Bible’s book of Proverbs. Each week we’re going to look at what the Bible’s book of Proverbs says about one subject. For example, next week we’ll be talking about God’s wisdom about Planning. Then the week after, we’ll talk about God’s wisdom about Taking Initiative. In all, we’ll be looking at about four to thirty different topics. (Depending on Response).
But today we’re going to start by talking about God’s wisdom for our lives in general. Today we’re going to find out what true wisdom is, what the proverbs are, and then some prerequisites to living wisely.
1. What is “Wisdom”? (Marunong)
What exactly is “wisdom”? The dictionary defines “wisdom” as the ability to discern what is true or right. So our English word “wisdom” has both moral implications–discerning what’s right–and intellectual implications–discerning what’s true.
Wisdom is the God-given ability to perceive the true nature of a matter and to implement the will of God in that matter. Dr. Larry Lea
Wisdom is what is true and right combined with good judgment. Bill Hybels
The Hebrew word translated “wisdom” in the Bible is a bit more colorful than our English word. The Hebrew word translated “wisdom” is hochma, and it usually refers to some kind of skill or ability. It was originally used to described the work of weavers who weave the elaborate garments of Aaron, the high priest. Since the high priest and his clothing typified the ultimate high priest, Jesus Christ, it was imperative that the weavers follow God’s exact specifications for the priests’ garments.
“3 And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” (KJV)
The weavers’ ability to follow God’s design for manufacturing the garments was labeled “wisdom.” From that point on, the Israelites equated wisdom with a skill for living, and wisdom has since been defined as “the skill to live life according to God’s plan.” The wise person is one who patterns his finances, his goals, his relationships, and every aspect of his life according to the specifications revealed in God’s Word.
So the Hebrew word distinguishes wisdom from knowledge, because a person can have a mind full of facts, yet lack authentic wisdom. Often the authors of the Bible use this word hochma to describe people who are skilled in a trade or a craft, like wood working, metal working, embroidery, or weaving (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology, Vol. 2, p.133). This same word is used for people who are particularly skillful in tasks like trading, leadership, and even sailing.
Now with that background to the word hochma, look at Proverbs 3:19-20. These two verses represent many verses in Proverbs that describe the relationship between wisdom and God’s creation. Using construction terminology, the author of Proverbs pictures God as being like an architect and wisdom as being like the builder. As the architect, God designs the blueprint for the universe, but then its wisdom who actually builds off that blue print.
Wisdom is what we need to fulfill God’s purpose for your life. God has a design for each of us. We need wisdom to fulfill that design.
2. What Are “Proverbs”?
Now the book of Proverbs are part of the Bible’s wisdom literature. So we come to the question, “What exactly are ‘proverbs'”?
Proverbs are short, memorable sayings whose meanings are relevant to many different situations.
If you remember the movie Forrest Gump, the “gumpisms” in that movie were proverbs. The saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get” is a proverb. “Stupid is as stupid does” is a proverb.
Every society has its own set of proverbs that represent the collective wisdom of that society. Let me give you some other examples that come from our culture.
“Look before you leap.”
“Easy come, easy go.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
“Live one day at a time.”
The Bible’s book of Proverbs represents the collective wisdom of ancient Israel. And because as Christians we believe the whole Bible is inspired by God, the collective wisdom of Proverbs represents God’s angle on wisdom. Most of the proverbs comes from king Solomon, the guy who was the king of Israel during her golden reign. But Proverbs also has wise sayings from other people as well.
It’s likely that the book of Proverbs started as a book to help parents instruct their kids in life skills. In fact, the first nine chapters of Proverbs are a father instructing his son in how to live wisely in the world. So Proverbs was originally a parenting strategy as moms and dads tried to equip their children to live God centered, successful lives according to the grain of God’s creation.
But it’s also likely that Proverbs later became a textbook in ancient Israel to prepare people to serve as leaders. In this sense, it was a textbook for equipping emerging leaders who could serve as advisors in government posts. By the time of King Solomon, there were several counselors or sages who were known for their common sense and wisdom.
Now it’s important to understand how to apply the wise sayings from Proverbs to our lives. The sayings we find in the book of Proverbs are generalizations about what’s true most of the time. They’re guidelines for wise living, but we should resist turn them into rigid, absolute promises. These sayings tell us what usually works in most circumstances. But the proverbs don’t work in every, single circumstance. In fact books of Job and Ecclesiastes in the Bible both deal with those situations when these wise sayings don’t seem to work.
So we shouldn’t read Proverbs as if these wise sayings are absolute promises or laws. For example, one proverb tells us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). That’s true most times, but it’s a generalization. It’s not always true, but all things being equal, it’s true in more circumstances than it’s not true. So it makes sense to give a gentle answer when someone’s really mad, but this proverb is not a guarantee that a gentle answer will always defuse anger.
Let me give you another example: One of the proverbs tells us, “The years of the wicked will be short” (Proverbs 10:27). That’s true more often than not, but it’s not true in every single case. In most cases, a lifestyle of wickedness cuts a person’s lifespan short. But, as Ecclesiastes observes, this isn’t true in every single case.
So these are generalizations, observations about how life works in most cases. This is very important to understand, especially when it comes to verses about parenting and marriage. So Proverbs are wise sayings that are relevant to many different situations.
3. How Does One Pursue Wisdom?
How does one acquire wisdom. The place to begin is the fear of the Lord. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” In this verse, the words, “knowledge,” “wisdom” and “discipline” are all being used as synonyms, to describe the same thing. Most Bible teachers view this verse as the motto or theme of the entire book of Proverbs. Every wise saying we find in Proverbs goes back to this foundational principle.
The fear of the Lord has two sides: One side is to hate evil, to hate sin, and to avoid sin at all cost. The other side is delight in doing God’s will. Psalm 112:2 “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands.”
To fear God means to view God with deep and healthy respect as shown in one’s hatred of evil, and love for what God wants.
Let me give you another requirement for receiving wisdom – You must passionately pursue it.Look at Proverbs 4:7-8. This is actually part of a poem about the importance of wisdom. Notice the commands “get wisdom,” “get understanding,” “esteem wisdom,” and “embrace wisdom.” The pursuit of wisdom is one of the most important things in life we can do. It’s more important than making a lot of money. If we honor wisdom, like a king, wisdom will lift us up. If we embrace wisdom, like a lover wisdom will bring true satisfaction to our lives.
Now how do we passionately pursue this kind of wisdom? Well we start by boldly asking God for wisdom. In the New Testament from the Bible we learn that if we lack in wisdom, we should ask God for it, and he’ll give it to us if we ask him in faith (James 1:5). So we start our pursuit by admitting that we lack wisdom and asking God for it. Often we lack wisdom because we’re not humble enough to ask God for it.
We can also pursue wisdom by reading the Bible, especially the wisdom literature of the Bible. For several years I used to read a chapter of Proverbs a day, with the chapter corresponding to the day of the month. So on the first of the month I’d read chapter one, on the second I’d read chapter two, and so forth.
Another way we pursue wisdom is by developing the art of observation. Most of the wise sayings in the book of Proverbs didn’t come by direct revelation from God. God didn’t reveal these wise sayings through dreams or visions or an audible voice. Instead God revealed these wise sayings through people’s observational skills, what you might call sanctified common sense. Most often proverbs worked this way. A person is walking along the road and he notices the yard of a lazy person. He notices that the yard is overgrown with weeds, that the walls around the yard are broken down and in need of repair. Then the observer tells us, “I saw and I considered it, I looked and I received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, and poverty will come upon you like a robber” (24:30-34). That’s how most of the Proverbs came, from careful observation combined with reflection. So observe the world around you, watch how people respond, what kind of consequences come from certain actions.
A final way we can pursue wisdom is by reading. Historians of ancient history have observed that many of the wise sayings in the book of Proverbs are identical to the wise sayings archeologists have uncovered from other ancient societies, like Egypt and Mesopotamia. It’s likely that during Solomon’s reign, when Israel became an international superpower, that Israel’s leaders encountered the wise sayings of the Egyptians and other nations. They accepted those wise sayings that they felt were consistent with fear of Yahweh, and eventually these wise sayings were incorporated into our own Bibles. They rejected those wise sayings that were inconsistent with the fear of Yahweh. We can do the same thing these wise men and women did by reading widely, looking for wisdom wherever we might find it. Whether it’s Newsweek or Reader’s Digest, reading biographies and or the latest non fiction bestseller, we can learn from people, even of those people aren’t Christians. So the second prerequisite is to passionately pursue wisdom.
Third, to gain wisdom one must follow an accurate moral code. Now look at vv. 18 and 19 of this same chapter. The “path of the righteous” is a common theme in Proverbs. This phrase pictures life as being like a journey with lots of different roads we can take. The “path of the righteous” isn’t righteous because of character of the people who choose this path. The “path of the righteous” is righteous because it’s consistent with God’s righteous character, so walking this righteous path makes a person righteous, rather than the person making the path righteous. Verse 18 envisions this the path of righteousness as starting with just a glimmer of light, like what you see just before sunrise early in the morning. But the further you walk on this path, the brighter the sunshine becomes, until it’s blazing like high noon.
In contrast “the path of the wicked” is a place of utter darkness. Like the path of the righteous, this path isn’t wicked because of the kind of people who choose it, but its wicked because it’s inconsistent with the righteous character of God. This is the path I lived for the first 19 years of my life, as I lived in rebellion towards God and refused to acknowledge God’s ways. Often, you don’t realize the darkness on this path because it’s the only path you’ve ever walked. Yet as you walk this dark path you wonder why you keep stumbling and falling. You wonder why life doesn’t work for you, why your relationships keep falling apart, why circumstances never seem to go your way. You chalk it up to bad luck, when in reality its because you’re living against the grain of God’s world, you’ve chosen the hard path, the path of wickedness.
God’s word serves us like a compass when you’re out in the middle of a forest lost not knowing where to go. A moral code provides us with a direction, a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, of what’s good and what’s evil. You see, when we live by an accurate moral code, we live with what God has set, and life works for us. When we live by an inaccurate moral code, we live against what God has set for His creation. An inaccurate moral code is like a broken compass, and we end up getting even more and more lost.
Now how do we find this compass, this accurate moral code? Well a good place to start is the Ten Commandments in the Bible. The Ten Commandments provide us with a basic framework for ethical absolutes in our lives. Really, the Ten Commandments are kind of a bottom line of ethics. The rest of the Bible fills in the gaps, showing us how to live a moral and just life before God.
Not that we live up to that moral compass, but having the compass functioning correctly, we can quickly see when we drift off the path.
Let me give you the final requirement for acquiring wisdom: To live wisely, we need to build a life plan that is consistent with God’s plan.
Look at Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
This wise saying presents a contrast between the many intentions, goals and aspirations that characterize the human heart with the single plan of God. Although we might strategize and scheme to accomplish our own goals, ultimately God’s plan is the only plan that will be established. The implication of this proverb is that we ought to try to make our plans consistent with God’s plan.
A wise person aligns his or her life to God’s purpose. To do otherwise would be foolish since he or she knows that God’s purpose would prevail and would be what is meaningful in the end.
This is the reason why we must ultimately reject so many of the self-help books around. Most of these books focus on self-fulfillment instead of being God-centered. Many of these books have good insights in them, but the one thing that’s lacking in all of them is a passion for God’s plan.
When you think about success in you life, what kind of picture comes to your mind? Do you picture success as the Great Filipino Dream (Indian, Chinese), as owning your own home, having successful kids who finish college, being upwardly mobile, and having lots of money? Nothing’s wrong with any of these things in and of themselves, but none of these things ask, “What is God’s plan in my world and how can my life plan fit with God’s plan?”
God’s plan for the world is to share the good news of his love as it’s revealed through Jesus Christ around the world. It’s to show people that God is real through words and actions that reflect the good news of Jesus Christ. God’s plan is being part of a church community where we’re truly going into Christlikeness, where we’re learning and giving, where we’re serving and sharing with others. It’s helping our children not just be successful, but become passionate followers of Jesus who are equipped to live life in a culture that’s often hostile to their faith. It’s alleviating human suffering in our culture by embodying Christ’s tenderness and compassion. It’s speaking out against evil and hatred where we see it, showing that many of the ideas in our culture contradict the grain of God’s creation. It’s helping people understand the truths of God found in the Bible.
To live wisely, we need to redefine what we mean by success. We need to abandon our quest for self-fulfillment, and abandon ourselves to Christ fulfillment. We need to find out how God has uniquely wired us and how this uniqueness can be used by God to help other people. We need to break out of our consumer mentality that we bring to church with us, and begin viewing ourselves as followers of Jesus, men and women who passionately pursue Jesus and God’s purposes in our lives.
We need to build a life plan that’s consistent with God’s plan.
Today God is inviting us to pursue wisdom. We begin this pursuit by entering a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Once that relationship is established, it’s a journey that calls you to passionately pursue wisdom, to embrace an accurate moral code and to build a life plan consistent with God’s plan.