Biblical Wisdom

Get Wisdom | Proverbs 4:1-9

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

Proverbs 4:1-9 ESV

 

As we enter chapter four, we now find Solomon once again pleading for us to obtain wisdom. He claims that wisdom will both guard and exalt us, so we should seek wisdom regardless of the cost. But how do we acquire wisdom? Solomon points to his father’s teaching of the Scriptures as being where he learned the value and necessity of wisdom. This is important because it reminds us that making disciples is a way of imparting wisdom.

WISDOM & DISCIPLESHIP // VERSES 1-4

Solomon first tells us to hear. As we saw that very word in 2:8, so we will continue to see it throughout Proverbs. We often rush past words like this, but I believe it is quite important to stop and consider its implications. God, through Solomon, is telling us to listen to what He is saying. How often do we hear of people asking God to speak to them or saying that they would believe in God if He would only speak? Yet now we open God’s Word and read Him saying, “Hear!” He is speaking; the only question now is whether or not we are listening. Are we going to be a people who hear what God is saying to us?

So what does Solomon tell us to hear? He is calling us to listen to his instructions, precepts, and teachings. These instructions have been compiled for us in the book we are presently studying, Proverbs. Therefore, Solomon is urging us to listen to the Scriptures that God has spoken to us, which he claims to have received from his own father, David. The author is, thus, constructing a lineage of discipleship. He is transferring God’s wisdom as found in the Scriptures to us as his children, just like his father transferred the divine wisdom to him. This familial discipleship should not surprise us since we have previously read how God expected parents to teach diligently to their children all the commands of the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). David’s instruction of Solomon was merely the basic pattern that God desired for all of His people.

But why was David diligent in teaching God’s Word to Solomon? True life is found in keeping God’s commandments (v. 4). As we’ve stated previously, there is an element of temporal truth here. If we submit ourselves to the wisdom of God, we will generally not cut our own lives short by foolishly driving into a tree while intoxicated. By this reasoning, our lives will tend to be longer by obeying God’s laws. But ultimately, we know that this principle is fulfilled fully in eternity. God’s Word, therefore, gives life everlasting but also tends to give a greater scope and depth to life in the here and now.

Because God’s Word leads to life, we must be diligent in discipling one another in the commandments and the wisdom of God. Providentially, we are living in an age of resurging commitment to discipleship. Many Christians in the United States grew up in church without ever being truly discipled, and they now read the clear commands of Scripture, resolving to end that cycle. Praise the LORD for this reformation! Yet often when we think of discipleship, we only think of men discipling men and women discipling women in coffee shops and other hipster-approved locales. But these verses, like Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6, emphasize that discipleship must also be built into the very fabric of the parent-child relationship. In fact, we might argue that household discipleship is the primary form of discipleship, that discipleship must begin in the home.

The first and most important disciples of each parent is their children. Solomon was a good and wise king because his father taught him to love the LORD. Of course, both Solomon and David were extremely broken men. David committed adultery and ordered the woman’s husband to be killed, while Solomon allowed his lust for his wives and concubines to lead his heart astray from the LORD. David was a messed up father, but he was also faithful to teach him God’s Word. Solomon was broken and sinful, but his father’s diligent instruction gave him the grounding that he needed to author three books of the Bible. Like anything within the Christian life, the emphasis is not upon our own worthiness. We know that we are unworthy from the start, which is why we praise God for the grace that has been given us in Christ! God wiped away the penalty of our disobedience; we must now be faithful to obey Him as newly formed creatures.

So, parents, are you faithful to teach your children the Word of God? Make no mistake, our children will be discipled. Television and computer screens are tremendously effective disciple-makers. Unfortunately, they do not tend to teach the wisdom and commands of God. Will we disciple them ourselves, or will we allow the various influences around them to disciple them?

If the notion of discipling your children in the Word of God sounds intimidating, allow me to list eight nuggets of advice from Jon Nielson’s book, Reading the Bible with Your Kids:

  1. Pick a regular time and place.
  2. Read short chunks at a time.
  3. Pick a literal translation.
  4. Stop often to explain.
  5. Ask follow up questions.
  6. Connect each passage with Jesus.
  7. Let the read turn to prayer.
  8. Be willing to do it badly.

Number eight is probably the most important. We cannot expect to be masters of teaching the Bible to our kids, nor can we expect our children to be perfect in their listening and learning. We are human, and life is hard. Discipleship is no different. We will regularly make a mess of the whole thing. What then? We repent, both to God and to our children, and we do it again. Parents need the grace of God in order to disciple their children. Fortunately, God is in the business of supplying grace to His children.

Before moving into the final verses of this study, allow me to give one final point of advice for making disciples, whether with our children or with another believer: don’t make reading the Bible feel like eating vegetables.

To be honest, my personal reading of the Scriptures often feel like eating vegetables. I know that I need them. I know that they are good for me. But sometimes, I don’t really like the taste. Yet this is not how reading and studying the Bible is meant to be. Read Psalm 19 or 119 and note how passionately they speak of God’s Word!

Of course, we know that some passages in the Bible are kind of like eating Brussel sprouts. We know that genealogies are just as inspired as the rest of Scripture, but it can still be quite difficult to truly enjoy reading through a list of names that we can’t pronounce. So we tend to force those texts down because we know that we need them.

But that is not the entirety of the Scripture! Indeed, the Bible is a full-course meal, vegetables and all. There are passages of the Bible that are like eating desserts. Simply dive into the books of Samuel and get lost in the story. The life of David has enough twists and turns to match any television series. Or if you want political intrigue and conspiracy, read 1 & 2 Kings. Do you want some meat that will be a little tough to chew but slap your tongue with flavor? Read the wisdom literature, like our present book Proverbs or Ecclesiastes or Job. Read the Gospels. They are the meat and potatoes of the Bible, giving four complementary portraits of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In school, the teachers that made the most impact on me were the ones who had a genuine love for their subject. I still remember most of the bones of the human body because of my seventh grade science teacher. Because she loved science, her love became contagious. How much more should we love God’s Word! Do we delight in the Word, or is it simply forced? Do we truly believe that life is found in these words? If so, how can the Scriptures be boring to us?

Dive into the Word of God. Love the Scriptures. And as you teach others the Bible, show them your heart for God’s commandments. Such love is contagious.

GET WISDOM // VERSES 5-9

Having discussed how Solomon received his God-fearing wisdom from his father, he now proceeds to impart more of it to us. Get wisdom is the primary command of these verses. Both verses 5 and 7 urge us to obtain wisdom. Verses 6, 8, and 9 then list benefits that wisdom provides for us. But let us first address the command. What does it mean to get wisdom? And furthermore, how do we get it?

Verse 7 tells us that getting wisdom is the beginning of wisdom. Wait. What? Isn’t the fear of the LORD the beginning of wisdom? How is the beginning of wisdom the act of getting wisdom? In all actuality, this is the same command as fearing the LORD. It’s just worded differently, but the idea is the same. They complement, not contradict, one another. The fear of the LORD truly is the beginning of wisdom because it is only then that we are able to seek the One who authored wisdom in the first place. Fearing God is wisdom because it recognizes that we are not supreme. We do not have the highest intellect and understanding of ourselves and the world around us. True wisdom is submission to God, understanding that He knows better. This command, to get wisdom, can only come through fearing the LORD. They are not two commands, but one.

The second half of verse 7 further urges us to pursue wisdom regardless of the cost. Whatever you get, get insight. If you could only choose one thing to have in this life, choose wisdom. That’s what Solomon is saying. Even if it costs you everything, chase after God’s wisdom. Pursue it. Get it above everything else.

Now that we understand the command, let’s view the blessings of obedience.

Wisdom Guards Us (v. 6)

Verse 6 tells us not to forsake her, which recall that wisdom is personified as a woman. Love her, and she will guard you. How does wisdom guard us? Practically, we can look at the example of debt. Bible warns us about the dangers of debt, how it places us in the possession of another person. The Scriptures, therefore, urge us to avoid debt whenever possible. If we live according to this wisdom, we will then be guarded from the harmful effects of debt. So wisdom guards us in very practical ways.

Yet I also think that this guarding has a spiritual component as well. Since we know that wisdom comes from God as He has spoken in His Word, we can conclude that the Scriptures guard us. They teach us who God is. They are how He speaks to us, teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us. They keep us rooted in Him, that we may be firm in the midst of the storms of life. The Scriptures remind us that God truly is working out all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

Wisdom Exalts Us (vv. 8-9)

Notice the second blessing that comes with obtaining wisdom: she will exalt you. What does this exaltation mean? Are not the Scriptures clear that we need to be humbled, not exalted? The answer is that it does both things. The Bible, and its wisdom within, both humbles and exalts us. We must first begin with the humility. The gospel humbles us by killing our self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. Milton Vincent exposes how the gospel liberates us from the throes of self-love:

I love myself supremely because I am the most worthy person I know to be loved and also because I think I can do a better job at it than anyone else. Such arrogance makes me dangerous, yet it is deeply ingrained in my sinful flesh. Thankfully, the gospel frees me from the shackles of self-love by addressing both of these causes. First, the gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love that I could ever give to myself… Second, the gospel reveals to me the breathtaking glory and loveliness of God, and in doing so, it lures my heart away from love of self and leaves me enthralled by Him instead (30).

The gospel certainly humbles us in this regard. We certainly do not deserve the supremely beautiful love of God because we are rebels against Him, would-be usurpers of His throne. Through our sin, we earned the fullness of God’s wrath. We have every reason be to humbled. And yet the gospel does not stop there. The gospel also makes us the recipients of God’s love. This love is humbling as well. Jesus told his disciples that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is exactly what Christ did upon the cross! He died for us. We cannot match that kind of love. I rarely am able to lay down my life for myself (which is called self-control and self-discipline, by the way), let alone do so for someone else. He loves us far more than we could ever love ourselves. God’s love humbles us by putting our love to shame by comparison and reminding us that we are not the most deserving of love.

But the gospel also exalts us, by making us the objects of God’s love and affection. Even though we were dead in are trespasses, God loved us enough to die on our behalf. This does not mean that we are intrinsically valuable; instead, it means that God is infinitely merciful in choosing to love us. God gives us value by choosing us. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It humbles us far more than we ever want to be humbled, and it exalts far more than we ever deserve to be exalted.

Get Wisdom

Wisdom can only be found in the Scriptures. So do you love the Word of God? Peter gives us a similar exhortation to Solomon’s when he says, “like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Having a newborn infant of my own transforms my understanding of these verses. I have always cognitively known that babies need milk, and we likewise need the Scriptures. But having a newborn really illuminates the significance of longing for God’s Word. Newborns have a deep longing for milk, one which causes them to cry as though they are dying whenever they are hungry. Not knowing how to process hunger, they are desperate to be fed, and they are will to cry out for it. Our hearts should do the same for God’s Word and His wisdom. We long the Scriptures because we need them. We chase after God’s wisdom regardless of the cost because it is our life. We cannot live without God’s Word and the wisdom found within it. Pray, then, for a desire and a passion for seeking God’s wisdom through His Word.

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Biblical Wisdom

The Call of Wisdom | Proverbs 1:20-33

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof, 
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Proverbs 1:20-33 ESV

 

Although most Proverbs’ first nine chapters is written from a father to a son, we now arrive at one of the sections were wisdom herself speaks to the reader. Like a street preacher, wisdom is personified as a woman crying out in the busy streets for people to love and embrace her. The significance is that wisdom beckons to everyone, but few answer her call. In fact, the choice between wisdom and folly is a choice between a narrow or broad gate. Just has few find the hard, narrow gate, few embrace wisdom.

WISDOM SPEAKS // VERSES 20-21

These two verses introduce and set the scene for the literary device used in the remainder of the section: the personification of wisdom. Although wisdom is an abstract concept, Solomon is poetically giving it a voice, and since the goal of Proverbs is to give us wisdom, we could easily say that these glimpses of wisdom personified are the heart and soul of the book.

The backdrop for Lady Wisdom’s speech is not a well-kept college classroom or a philosopher’s forum; rather, Solomon pictures wisdom scream in the middle of the markets and noisy streets. She is standing at the city gates crying out to anyone that will listen. Wisdom is the equivalent of an Old Testament prophet or a street preacher. She is desperate for anyone to hear her message.

Why?

Wisdom is intimately connected with godliness. We cannot have true wisdom without knowing God, and we cannot know God without growing in wisdom. Sin is the epitome of foolishness; therefore, as we walk with God, we will become wiser. Wisdom is an essential element of a Christian’s sanctification. This is why James urges to ask for wisdom when we lack it (James 1:5). Wisdom is necessary pursuit. We cannot know God without it.

Fortunately, wisdom is attainable. In fact, wisdom is guaranteed to those who are willing to ask for it. God is generous, and wisdom is one of His many gifts that He pours out without reproach (meaning that He will not turn us away). The imagery of wisdom street preaching is important because God openly invites humanity to embrace wisdom. He is not withholding this secret of life from anyone. He gives it freely to all who will humble themselves enough to admit that they need wisdom. Of course, such humility is reason why wisdom is short supply. Free gifts require open hands. We cannot ask for wisdom until we first realize that we are fools.

HOW LONG // VERSES 22-31

Lady Wisdom begins her proclamation by crying out “how long” twice. These two words set the tone for the remainder of the passage. Wisdom is being boldly and blatantly offered but continuously refused by the simple, scoffers, and fools.

We’ve already discussed the fools and the simple, but who are the scoffers? “They are cynical and defiant freethinkers who ridicule the righteous and all for which they stand (e.g., Ps 1:1)” (NET). Scoffers stand as a category of their own because of their aggression toward the ways of God. The simple at least have the potential of becoming wise, and the fools despise knowledge and wisdom. But scoffers do not merely hate wisdom, they mock it. They are revelers in their wicked path.

In verse 23, Lady Wisdom explains how wisdom can be attained: by responding to her rebuke. This notion of wisdom’s rebuke is crucial to the passage since it also appears in verses 25 and 30. A rebuke is never fun because it means being convicted of sin or having our faults revealed, but it is a critical aspect of biblical wisdom. Upon reaching a fork in the road, we must choose which way to follow. Likewise, being shown the path of wisdom necessitates having the path of foolishness condemned. Embracing wisdom means we must repent at her reproof.

Wisdom then responds to her rejection with laughter at their calamity. She mocks the mockers when trouble befalls them. She claims that whenever they seek her in the midst of their trials, she will refuse to answer them. This may sound harsh, but verse 31 clearly establishes that when the foolish suffer, they are merely eating “the fruit of their way.” They are being left to their own devices. Their destruction is well-earned because they had plenty of opportunities to repent at wisdom’s reproof.

But what about verse 28? Is that verse teaching that God will refuse those who repent in the midst of trials and hardship? In a way, yes. The repentance being described in verse 28 is not true repentance. It is the half-hearted prayer that many people make to God while in the middle of a storm of life. They do not love and serve God, desiring for His will to be done above all else. They simply want God to bail them out of their problems. It is against this kind of superficial “Christianity” that Hebrews 3:12-14 speaks:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

SECURITY OR DISASTER // VERSES 32-33

These final verses of the chapter summarize Lady Wisdom’s message. Those who listen to wisdom will dwell in security, while fools will be destroyed.

Verse 32 describes the path to destruction in two ways. First, the simple are killed by their turning away. Though the simple are given the choice between wisdom or folly, life or death, many choose folly and death. Instead of turning in repentance, they turn a follow after fools. They die for their lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

Second, the fools are destroyed by their complacency. This is a terrifying image. While the simple were killed because they turned toward sin, fools are destroyed by doing nothing. The NET translates this as “the careless ease of fools will destroy them.” This is a great warning against “Christians” who refuse to take sin and the things of God seriously. Twice Jeremiah warns the people of Judah against prophets and priests who heal “the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (6:14, 8:11). These religious leaders refused to take the sin of Judah seriously. They spoke of peace while God was crying out for His people to repent. We must take care that we do not allow a similar complacency to sweep us away. The path to damnation is open wide for those who refuse to let God’s word call them to action.

Those who listen to wisdom, who embrace the fear of the LORD, find a much different outcome. Instead of meeting destruction and death, they find security and ease. They find the true peace that fools only attempt to imitate with their complacency. Because they listened to wisdom’s call, they live without fear of disaster.

Wait. So then what happened to Job? He was blameless man before the LORD, right? Why did the very definition of disaster fall upon him if he was a wise man who feared God? And what about the apostles, most of whom died violent deaths because they preached Christ?

Verse 33 does not promise or guarantee that God’s people will not see disaster; rather, they would not dread the disasters that may befall them. They will dwell secure regardless of what life throws their way. They are a people who possess a Treasure that cannot be stolen by thieves, eaten by moths, or corroded by time. They are a people who, when destitute, afflicted, and mistreated, consider “the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures” of all the world (Hebrews 11:26). The wise are not exempt from suffering; they simply know Him who is their comfort in the midst of the storm.

Biblical Wisdom

Background on Proverbs

Author

Proverbs 1:1 presents Solomon as the primary author of the book, but there are other writers as well, such as Agur and Lemuel.

Theme

Godly wisdom helps us to understand and navigate the broken, sin-filled world around us by con-forming ourselves to God’s pattern for creation.

Background

Solomon, the son of David, is the primary author and/or collector of the proverbs within Proverbs, and the Bible certainly paints him as being qualified. After becoming king of Israel, 1 Kings 3:3-15 tell of God appearing to Solomon in a dream, asking what he desired. The young king asked the LORD for wisdom to lead Israel, which was a wise request itself. From then onward, Solomon became known for his great wisdom, so that people from all over the earth came to hear his words (1 Kings 4:34). With his understanding, Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and composed 1,005 songs. Many of those proverbs are no doubt within this book.

But the Proverbs is not the sole work of Solomon. The book, as we have it today, was not complete until more than two hundred years after Solomon’s death. We know this because King Hezekiah (one of Judah’s most godly kings) compiled more of Solomon’s proverbs about a dozen generations later (25:1). We know nothing about Lemuel and Agur nor of the anonymous authors of 22:17-24:22 and 24:23-34. Thus, Proverbs began to be composed with Solomon, was still being compiled in Hezekiah’s day, and might have been finished as late as the Babylonian exile. This vast time frame should remind us that God’s wisdom transcends the ages, speaking and guiding whomever has ears to hear.

Purpose

The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach us “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth (1:2-4).” Proverbs aims to increase the learning of the wise and to give guidance to the one with understanding. This book wants to make us wise, to give us the skills and understanding to navigate life in a way that pleases God.

Principles for Understanding Proverbs

Proverbs can be a very difficult book to understand well, so before we begin our dive into the book, here are a few principles to keep in mind while studying Proverbs.

First, Proverbs is divided into two major halves. The first half (chapters 1-9) are an introductory course of on biblical wisdom, with Solomon writing to us readers as a father teaching his son. Although these paternal speeches form the bulk of the first nine chapters, we are also treated occasionally to speeches from Lady Wisdom. Because of this teaching pattern, it is important for us to approach these chapters as students ready to learn wisdom from experts.

Second, Proverbs are principles, not promises. Many parents can testify that Proverbs 22:6 is does not always happen. Proverbs show us how things should work within God’s creation, but they are not guaranteed. Ecclesiastes and Job show us how biblical wisdom is applied to these situations when life goes against what we expected.

Third, Proverbs cannot make us wise, only God can. Even though Proverbs is the book of biblical wisdom, they cannot make us wise themselves. We must rather pray for God to use His Word to make us wise, but without His illumination, these words will never change or impact our hearts.

Fourth, Proverbs are not lifehacks to apply immediately; they require wisdom to use properly. Too many people think of Proverbs as being full of sayings that can be grabbed without context and applied to life’s various situations. This approach fails to realize the importance of Proverbs using nine chapters to introduce the concept of wisdom before launching into the proverbs themselves. In fact, Proverbs speaks against trying to use these wise words without wisdom: “Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:7.” Or “Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools (26:9).”

Fifth, there are multiple types of literature within Proverbs. Verse lists four types of literature with Proverbs: proverbs, sayings, words of the wise, and riddles. Proverbs are the bulk form of literature present in the book. Most often proverbs are composed in a parallelism format, meaning they have two lines that reflect upon each other. There is plenty of debate over what exactly sayings and words of the wise refer to. Proverbs 22:17 begins a section of thirty sayings that are called the words of the wise, so maybe the two terms are generally interchangeable. Most commentators agree that riddles within Proverbs refer to texts like Proverbs 30:18-19: “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of the eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on the rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.” These are obviously not riddles as we have them in the English language; instead, they are sayings that are purposefully ambiguous and we are meant to search out their meaning.

Busy Sloth

Finally, the notion of sloth does not merely apply to idleness but also to busyness.

Before discussing busyness, we should note that idleness is a sinful counterfeit of God-glorifying rest.

Rest is worship; idleness is not.

Rest is found in coming to Christ; idleness is found in self-gratifying pursuits.

The same is also true of work and busyness.

Busyness is a sinful counterfeit of God-glorifying work.

Work is worship; busyness is not.

Work is accomplished only when we are working from the knowledge that Jesus worked perfectly in our place.

Busyness is legalism in action.

Busyness is sinful because it is a denial of God’s sovereignty. It is the act of living as if God is not in control and so we must attempt to take life by its reins.

Busyness is a rejection of God, while work is a glorifying act of worship. This means that work and rest are innately bound together, as are busyness and idleness.

Work and rest, as acts of worship, create a cycle of joy and renewal. Busyness and idleness, however, form a cycle of cynicism and decay. And it very much is a cycle.

We busy ourselves in order to prove our worth and value, only to collapse into idleness when we reach the end of our strength and will. We attempt to do everything, only to accomplish nothing. We fill each slot of our calendar in search of desperate productivity, only to waste our lives.

Once again, the problem is worship.

Busyness and idleness do not seek first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33); therefore, they are frivolous and trivial actions. They are a striving after the wind, a vanity of vanities. They never rise above this terrestrial plane.

The man of God, however, worships the LORD by submitting even menial tasks to God’s glory and kingdom, and he truly rests by coming to God for relief from the weariness of life. Thus, both his work and his rest are done to the glory of God. They are worshipful, and they are given the value of being holy and set apart for the LORD.

Tony Reinke speaks about this busy laziness as an epidemic of our society:

The slothful zombie may live a very busy life, but he does just enough to get things done, so he can get back to enjoying his comforts. Duties are what he performs, but comfort is what he craves. The zombie lives his routine in a fog, sleepwalking between weekends. Frederick Buechner writes this of the zombie: “Sloth is not to be confused with laziness. A slothful man may be a very busy man. He is a man who goes through the motions, who flies on automatic pilot. Like a man with a bad head cold, he has mostly lost his sense of taste and smell . . . people come and go, but through glazed eyes he hardly notices them. He is letting things run their course. He is getting through his life.” Richard John Neuhaus defines contemporary sloth as “evenings without number obliterated by television, evenings neither of entertainment nor of education, but a narcotic defense against time and duty.” This is sloth at its deadly best: trying to preserve personal comforts through the candy of endless amusements. Sloth is a chronic quest for worldly comfort that compounds boredom — boredom with God, boredom with people, boredom with life. The most common species of slothfulness is “lazy busy” — a full schedule endured in a spiritual haze, begrudging interruptions, resenting needy people, driven by a craving for the next comfort. It is epidemic in our day.

Reinke goes on to call sloth “a craving for personal comfort at all costs.”

It is this self-centeredness that kills.

The Sluggard cannot worship God, even when he is busy because he is too focused upon himself.

The call to the slothful, therefore, is not to work harder; rather, the Sluggard must submit both his work and rest to God.

 

Spiritual Sloth

Slothfulness, though, is not merely physical or intellectual. We can also be lazy and idle spiritually.

Spiritual sloth means being slothful to the things of God. Primarily, we see this in our reading of Scripture and prayer, which we tend to devote little (if any) time toward. While we may say that nothing is more important or necessary than hearing from and speaking to God, yet Scripture and prayer tend to be low on our list of priorities.

Douglas Wilson discusses the importance of recognizing our spiritual sloth in his book, The Seven Deadlies:

The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (Prov. 26:16). The condition of the contemporary church is exactly this—the result of spiritual sloth. We are wise in our own conceits. Like the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14–22), we think we can see, but we are blind. We think we are rich, but we are poor with regard to the things of God. We are impoverished and the worst thing is that we don’t know we are impoverished. We don’t have an understanding that this is our condition. Part of the reason is pressure from the unbelieving culture that is around us and our failure to withstand the pressure. In times of cultural deterioration, pressure is always applied to invert the moral order. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” The world has always had lazy people, but historically they were always recognized as such. We live in a time when this sluggard-mentality is treated as something that should be praised. In 1950, the average fourteen-year-old kid had a vocabulary of 25,000 words. Today, the average kid has a vocabulary of 10,000 words, four of which appear to be cable, X-Box, Netflix, and dude. But how is this up and coming generation of the ignorati described to us in our public discourse?—street-smart, savvy, irreverent, and refreshing. Industry and diligence are mocked, and the baseball hat on backwards is the mark of a sage. We praise the lazy and exalt the sluggard. We do this even though we know that God mocks the ungodly, the lazy and those who refuse to work for what they desire. This means laziness is a sign of contempt for God.

Spiritual sloth is often found in our inability to wake up in the morning, which is fitting because Solomon directly ties the refusal to rise from bed to the sin of sloth (Proverbs 6:9).

Greg Morse wrote a wonderful article on desiringgod.org called The Great Wall of Cotton: Why We Hit Snooze on God about this very issue. The entire thing is worth reading, but I will cite a portion here to capture his main idea.

We slept in because we had forgotten who bids us to rise. The God we snoozed was puny, uninteresting, unworthy — not the God of the Bible. The God we snoozed seemed so distant, so unaware, so cold. So, we rolled over in our warm beds and resumed sleeping. But the God who summons his people from their slumber is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of our wakefulness. We rise when friends call. Scramble to attention if our boss rings. And yet, far too often we roll over when our Best Friend, our only Savior, our truest Love knocks on our doors each morning. We provoke our jealous Husband with the scraps of our day, throwing him our spare devotion as stale breadcrumbs are thrown at pigeons in the park. He is God. He deserves our firstfruits, not our microwaved leftovers.  He can ask, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and not rise when I bid you? Why do you call me ‘Teacher’ and not sit daily at my feet? Why do you call me ‘Husband’ and not seek my tender embrace?” The burning ones of heaven cannot look at him — none yawn or fall asleep in his presence. The God we draw near to is the God of Revelation 5. As the Lamb ascends his throne, all of heaven screams, “Worthy!” (Revelation 5:9, 12). This scene is not one for sleeping infants or adults. What must this heavenly host think when they peer over the edge of heaven and see us lie in bed, as if dead, before him? This is not the holy deadness that resulted from John meeting with the exalted Christ whose chest shone with a golden sash, eyes burned like flames of fire, and whose voice thundered like the flood of many waters (Revelation 1:12–17). No, they see the deadness of Eutychus who, when Paul preached into the night, sank into a deep sleep, fell from his windowsill, and plummeted to his death (Acts 20:9).  How shocking it must be for heaven to be lost in fierce worship of God, and then to see many of us — his blood-bought people — daily meet him with a tap of a button and a rolling over.

Just as physical sloth tends to create poverty, so spiritual sloth causes spiritual poverty.

Do you give you make time for God?

Do you give the best of yourself and your efforts to God, or as Morse said, do you give Him your microwaved leftovers?

Intellectual Sloth

Our society may still (generally) value physical labor, but it is increasingly leaving behind intellectual labor. Leigh Bortins, in her book The Core, compares us to the early Americans by stating that “overall, the same percentage of Americans read Common Sense in the late 1770s that watch the Super Bowl today” (p. 29)!

I am convinced that intellectual laziness is not a matter of intelligence but of work. The human mind is capable of far more than we assume, and so is the “common” man. Remember that Jesus chose common men, ordinary laborers, to be the foundation of His church. Peter and John were mere fishermen, but under the power of the Holy Spirit, the religious leaders of their day “perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Of course, both men authored books of Scripture that reveal this boldness to us as well.

We must remember, therefore, that the Bible is not for scholars alone but for every man and woman. The riches of God’s Word are not vaulted to all but the theologian. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (that is, common Greek), and Christianity has a long, historical precedent of attracting and educating the lower classes of society, both valuing and teaching them.

Teaching all people is crucial to Christianity because we believe that God has revealed Himself to all people through the knowledge of Himself. A relationship with God necessarily demands a knowledge of God. I can have no relationship with someone I do not know. Neither can I divorce loving God from knowing God, and knowing God requires the intellect.

Presidential Debates

The intellectual sloth of our day is made quite evident in politics. Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, uses the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to accentuate how far cultural literacy has declined. The structure of these debates was for Candidate #1 to deliver an hour long speech, Candidate #2 would then provide an hour and a half rebuttal, and finally Candidate #1 would close with his half-hour counter-rebuttal.

Consider two quotations Postman cites from Lincoln and Douglas in these debates.

At one point during his speech, Douglas was met with a particularly lengthy applause to which he responded:

My friends, silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms (p. 45).

How scandalous that a politician would actively appeal to the judgment, understanding, and consciences of his listeners, instead of merely inciting their passions and enthusiasms.

And here is a sampling of how Lincoln spoke during these debates:

It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground (p. 46).

This kind of language is rarely employed for writing today and certainly not for speaking! Debates can no longer be held in this manner because we are too intellectually lazy to care. We need politics to be mingled with entertainment in order to hold our attention for any significant length of time.

Once more, the problem is NOT intelligence itself. Lincoln and Douglas were speaking to the general public, not society’s intellectuals. The problem is with our expectations and efforts, not our intellectual capacity.

As Christians, if we require that the proclamation of God’s very Word be no longer than half an hour, how can we bear to focus on political discourse for an hour and a half!

Knowing the Word

New English translations of the Bible continue to appear, promising to be translated into more readable language. The problem, however, with our comprehension of the Bible is not with the translations themselves but with how the biblical authors wrote. The letters of the New Testament, for example, are composed of densely-constructed logical arguments, but we wrestle to connect each dot of reasoning because our minds are now used to news-segment-sized nuggets of thought that do not exceed 140 characters. We cannot understand the Bible because we do not give ourselves to learning how to understand it.

Paul, for example, was immensely intelligent, but his letters were not written to the scholastic elite. He wrote to all believers, educated or uneducated, that they might know the truth of the gospel by reading for themselves or having his letters read to them. The God-breathed truth is more than accessible so long as we are willing to work at understanding it.

To be fair, a significant portion of this problem arrives from the expectations of education not being high enough. When people are expected to struggle and/or fail, they tend to do just that. Education, like most of life, both rises and falls on the basis of expectations. Bortins states as much:

Parents have forgotten that a century ago, the average nine-year-old worked hard enough to earn his or her own way in life. I wish every child had a life so blessed with ease that he thought loading the dishes into a dishwasher was hard work, but that is not reality. Parents need to stop believing excuses from poor Johnny that learning is too hard, or that he can’t pay attention, or that practicing penmanship is boring, or that math is repetitive. Tough. Life is repetitive. We are crippling our children’s brains instead of providing the extensive mental exercise they need for normal development. Mental exercise with a core of quality material is comparable to physical exercise with a healthy diet.

 

Biblical Wisdom

The Seduction of Adultery | Proverbs 7

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:24-27 ESV)

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9-11 ESV)

FURTHER READINGS

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-pattern-among-fallen-pastors

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/rejoice-in-the-wife-of-your-youth

OPENING THOUGHT

Life is difficult and incredibly complex, but thankfully God designed the world so that through wisdom we would be able to navigate through life’s difficulties. Biblical wisdom is the skill of living life as God designed it to be lived. In order to find this wisdom, we turn to the book of Proverbs. Written by King Solomon, Proverbs is full of God’s wisdom all areas of life.

In our present series, we are studying through the first nine chapters of Proverbs. Interestingly, these chapters are not composed of actual proverbs; instead, they are the introduction to the collection of proverbs that begins in chapter ten. As an introduction, these chapters are meant to give us an overview of what wisdom is and why we should diligently seek it.

Having spent three weeks discussing sexual immorality, we return to that subject for the final time in this series. In chapter five, we met the Adulteress and were warned to guard against her. In six, we learned the cost of giving in to her. Now in seven, we read how she seduces those without sense into their own destruction. We know that sin (and sexual sin particularly) is always a temptation, so as we study a temptation in action, let us learn from the follow of the young man in this chapter.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 7 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 7 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is? What do they teach you about Jesus?
  • Once again Solomon is urging us to cling to Scripture. Why is he restating this command yet again? How can practically treasure God’s Word?
  • Verses 6-23 give us description of sin’s seduction in action. What lessons can these verses teach us about the temptation to sin and how to avoid it?
  • Take time to compare Solomon’s words with Psalm 119:9-16. How does the young man of Psalm 119 differ from the young man in Proverbs 7? How can devoting ourselves to God’s Word enable us to fight temptation?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.