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:
- Pick a regular time and place.
- Read short chunks at a time.
- Pick a literal translation.
- Stop often to explain.
- Ask follow up questions.
- Connect each passage with Jesus.
- Let the read turn to prayer.
- 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.
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.