DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

What Wisdom's Worth (Proverbs 3:13-35)

We're currently studying the book of Proverbs, a book that's written to teach us wisdom, which is the skill of living well.

If you've been following along so far, you may have noticed that the book of Proverbs takes a long time before it gets to what we normally think of as proverbs. The first 9 chapters of Proverbs are kind of an introduction, and only in chapter 10 do we get to some of the short, pithy statements that we expect to read. We need to ask why the book spends so much time by way of introduction. I think the answer is that the author of Proverbs knows something about us that makes the first part of Proverbs necessary. He knows that although we want wisdom, we really won't understand what wisdom's worth. And because we don't know what wisdom's worth, we won't pursue it like we need to.

When I was a high school student working a part time job, I went to work one day and got a check I wasn't expecting. It was my holiday pay, equivalent to 4% of what I had earned in the past year, in lieu of me taking a vacation. I think the check was for about $150 or something like that. I was making about $2.65 an hour, so this was a huge windfall for me. It was like I had won the lottery.

So I did what any high school student would do: I cashed the check and spent it that same day. I can only remember one thing I bought with it, even though that item and the money are ancient history. It drove my mother crazy, because I squandered something that I probably should have valued a lot more.

Imagine that when I got that check, a financial adviser had somehow shown up at that very minute, before I could go to the bank and cash the check and spend it all. Suppose that the financial adviser had told me that if I took that money and invested it, that it would be worth five times as much right now. And what if she told me that if I put it away and forgot about it until I retired, that relatively puny amount would be worth thousands of dollars, about 30 times more than it was worth when I started?

Well, to be honest, I probably would have still spent the money anyway. I didn't recognize the value of thousands of dollars later. I recognized the value of $150 now, and I wanted to spend it.

Unless we understand the value of wisdom, we won't get serious about pursuing it. So in today's passage, the writer tells us three things:

  • what wisdom's worth
  • what wisdom's worth to us, and
  • what wisdom can do

And when we see what wisdom is worth, and what it can do, then we'll be prepared to pursue it with our lives.

So first, let's look at what wisdom is worth.

Verses 13 to 15 say:

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.

Imagine for a minute that you inherited a necklace from your grandmother. It's not really your style, so you throw it in a drawer somewhere. One day you decide to take it in to a jeweler to see if it's worth anything. As he looks through the eyepiece, you see his eyes begin to bulge. And then he goes into the back room and gets an even bigger eyepiece. Then he goes on the Internet and looks some things up. Eventually he comes back and evangelizes you. He tells you that this necklace is priceless, that it's a long lost treasure that's worth far more than everything he's sold in that entire store in 25 years. What would you do? That necklace, that wasn't really your style, would suddenly become very valuable to you. You wouldn't leave it in the drawer anymore. You'd sell it or put it away somewhere safe, but it would become far more valuable to you than it had ever been before.

That's exactly what happens in this passage. Because we're likely to undervalue wisdom, we're told how much wisdom is worth. One of the main reasons we don't pursue wisdom is because we undervalue it.

So we're told that wisdom is more profitable, a better investment, than silver or gold, and more valuable than rubies. Gold, silver, and rubies are extremely precious and expensive. They're difficult to extract from the earth and rare. But the profit and value of wisdom surpasses them all.

But wisdom's also valuable because of what it offers. Verses 16 to 18 say:

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.

Notice that wisdom is personified as a female. She's got long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. Wisdom's valuable because she offers so much.

Then verse 18 says that wisdom is a tree of life. The tree of life is what we lost access to in the Garden of Eden when Adam sinned against God. It represents healing and eternal life, which can be received again if we humble ourselves and take hold of wisdom.

So wisdom is profitable, valuable, and life-giving. In case you're still not buying the beauty and value of wisdom, there's more in verses 19-20:

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.

Wisdom is the principle by which God created this world, and it's the principle by which he sustains it. Divine wisdom guided our Creator, and it continues to guide the operation of this world. Wisdom is of such value that the world wouldn't exist or operate without it.

We're very prone to undervalue the importance of wisdom. The Royal Canadian Mint recently conducted a survey on the penny. They asked what you would do if you dropped a penny down the back of your sofa while watching TV. Would you stick your hand in to get it back? Two-thirds of Canadians said no. It's just a penny; it's not worth the effort. It's not valuable enough; it probably wasn't worth having in the first place.

The writer of Proverbs spends nine chapters waving his arms saying: wisdom is no penny. Don't underestimate its value.

But he doesn't just stop with its intrinsic value. In verses 21 to 26 he switches to addressing the reader. He doesn't just describe what wisdom's worth, he describes what wisdom is worth to you.

So second, let's look at what wisdom is worth to us.

Practically speaking, what can wisdom do for our lives?

Verses 21 to 26 say:

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the LORD will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

We're cynical and used to being oversold. But the writer promises a lot to us if we pursue wisdom. If we have wisdom, he says, we will be secure. We will be able to go through life and even go to bed at night knowing that we are secure. When tragedies come and other people panic, we won't need to be afraid.

How can he promise so much? It seems impossible. But verse 26 tells us: it's because when we have wisdom, the LORD will be at our side. Nothing will take place that he doesn't allow. No matter what happens, we will have God's presence or protection.

So wisdom is valuable, but not just intrinsically. It's also valuable for our lives. Like the necklace that's priceless, it's not just the beauty or value of the necklace that's significant. It's how that value can change our lives.

This passage doesn't end there. The author or compiler leaves us with one more section. Scholars have struggled to piece together why it's included here, because it at first looks unrelated. It seems to be a practical application of the command to pursue wisdom. In any case, it highlights the value of wisdom because it shows what wisdom can do.

So third, let's look at what wisdom can do.

The American poet Carl Sandburg said, "Love your neighbor as yourself; but don't take down the fence." Love has its limits. At the beginning of 2008 three men decided to walk the 9,000 miles between Britain and India without a dime in their pocket. Their goal was to rely only on the kindness of strangers as they traveled. Whenever they entered a town, they would offer a few minor services and accept food and lodging as payment. At the end of January 2008, they packed a few items, stepped into their hiking shoes, and hit the road.

The confident trio got as far as Calais, France, before they gave up. No one in the group spoke French, and the language barrier proved too difficult to overcome. The townspeople were suspicious of what they believed to be a bunch of freeloaders, so they turned a cold shoulder to them. Saddened over their failed mission, they returned home. You can only expect so much from strangers.

But verses 27 to 35 show us what real community could look like when we get wisdom. If you weren't convinced by the value of wisdom, or what wisdom can do for you, maybe you'll see the value of wisdom when you see what it can do to a community. Verse 27 commands the student who wants wisdom to never withhold good from one's neighbor if you're able to help. Verse 29 says never to do anything evil toward your neighbor. Looking at the broader community, verse 30 says to never make false accusations, and verse 31 warns against being jealous of those who get ahead by getting what they want unjustly. Put this all together and you realize that wise people make good neighbors. They are the kind of person that you want living next door. Wise people aren't only wise for their own sakes, but they bring blessing and good to the entire community. If you don't value wisdom for its own sake or for what it can do for you, value it for the type of people that it produces.

We're going to get into some practical areas in the upcoming sermons from Proverbs. But for now I need to ask you: do you see the value in wisdom? Until you see what wisdom's worth, you won't pursue it.

I know we all see the value of wisdom in our minds, but the real question is one for your heart. Do you treasure wisdom? That's what it's going to take if you are going to be wise. When we see what wisdom's worth, that's when we'll really begin to pursue it.

When Solomon, the compiler of this book, became king of Israel, we read that "the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, 'Ask for whatever you want me to give you.'" Solomon replied, "Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong" (1 Kings 3:5,9). God granted his request. Out of everything that Solomon could have asked for, he valued and received wisdom.

And now we're being invited to pursue wisdom ourselves by Solomon. And the first step is to see what wisdom's worth and begin to treasure it in our hearts. When we recognize it's value, we'll really begin to pursue it.

Somebody might ask, "Do you really mean to say there's nothing more valuable than wisdom?" Actually there is. Remember that in Proverbs that pursuing God means pursuing wisdom, and pursuing wisdom means pursuing God? Proverbs 2 said that if we pursue wisdom, we'll gain the fear of the LORD, and Proverbs 1 tells us that the fear of the LORD is where wisdom begins. But there's something, or more accurately, someone even better than the wisdom Solomon knew about:

  • The Queen of Sheba testified to Solomon's wisdom, but Jesus said that she would rise at the judgment and condemn people for not listening to his own superior wisdom.
  • Solomon talked about finding the tree of life, but Jesus offers eternal life.
  • Solomon called on his students to write his teachings on their hearts, but Jesus gave us the Spirit to write God's Word on our hearts.
  • Solomon was a good king, but Jesus is the ultimate King.
  • Solomon ultimately failed to obey his own wisdom, but Christ is the perfect embodiment of wisdom.
  • Solomon lost his kingdom, but Jesus' kingdom is eternal.
  • Solomon called on his students to feed their enemies, but Jesus died for his enemies.

Jesus is the wisdom of God. Colossians 2 tells us that in him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

When we not only see what wisdom is worth, but we see that wisdom is ultimately about the one who gave his life for us, we'll see that it indeed is worth pursuing. Because this type of wisdom is incredibly valuable, both intrinsically and practically. It makes us good neighbors, and it brings us to the only One who can truly offer us life.

Let's pray.

Father, our great temptation is to undervalue wisdom. I pray that today we would have learned the incredible value of wisdom. And how much more so now that we know the One who embodied wisdom, who did what Solomon couldn't do, and actually met the standards of wisdom perfectly.

Thank you that Jesus, who is the wisdom of God, offered his life for those of us who fall short. And thank you for the wisdom that is found in him. May we see his value, and may we pursue him with all of our lives. In his name we pray. Amen.

Wisdom, Rewards, and Failure (Proverbs 3:1-12)

If you go to Chapters this afternoon, and wander to the self-help section, you're going to find some books that are going to teach you how to live a good life. Here's a sample:

  • One book shows how "transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world." It tells us "how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence."
  • Another book offers "a five-day jump start that uses the principles in the book in a very specific, directed way to get you a fresh start on the path to optimal wellness."
  • Just one other example. Another book gives a step-by-step process that will help us navigate the terrain of our best lives so we can set a new life course

These are all very popular books, and there are more. And if they're not enough, you can get magazines as well that teach you about friendship, how to look hot, how to improve every area of your life that you can think of.

There's a huge demand for wisdom, isn't there? This morning we're going to continue to look at a book of the Bible that offers wisdom so that we know how to live. Wisdom in this book means skill in living, competence in dealing with the realities of life.

And what we're going to see in this passage this morning is completely different than anything we'll find at Chapters. Proverbs 3 gives us three things we need to understand: the path to wisdom, the rewards of wisdom, and then - surprisingly, about failure.

First, let's look at the path to wisdom.

Proverbs 3 tells us how to become wise, how to obtain skill in living. It's different from what you find anywhere else.

In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis writes about what sets ancient wisdom apart from some of the wisdom we encounter today:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the 'wisdom' of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.

If you look at a lot of books and advice today, they're about techniques for you to get what you want. It's about changing the world to match what your soul wants. Proverbs is completely different. It's not about changing the world out there as much as it is about changing us so that our souls match reality.

So this morning's passage gives us some practices or habits that we need to incorporate into our lives so that, over time, we will become wise.

The first practice Scriptural. Verse 1 says, "My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart." The writer talks about his teaching and his commands, which probably refers to the completed book of Proverbs. But it's bigger than that. The word teaching in the original is torah, which is the same word for God's Law, the first five books of the Bible. The writer of Proverbs is urging us to take God's Word, to remember it, and actually to go further than that: to keep them in our heart. The heart in the Bible is means the essential you - your mind, emotions, and will. The writer tells us to take the Scriptures and embed them in our lives, almost like the Scriptures become the operating system of our lives.

If you've travelled up the 400 or Highway 69, you've seen these huge rocks on either side of the highway. They're huge. You realize that they've come along with dynamite and blasted a path through the rocks for the road. If you wanted to blast away that rock, you may try exploding the dynamite outside the rock, but it really wouldn't do much. It may sheer some rock off the surface, but you'd never be able to blast your way through that rock. But if you drilled a hole into the center of that rock, and dropped the dynamite deep inside the rock, when that dynamite exploded the rock would move.

That's exactly what Proverbs tells you to do with God's Word. The Bible will never change you if it's outside of you. But if you put the Bible deep inside your life, at the center of your personality, when God's Word goes off it will move you. Wisdom involves placing God's Word into your heart and absorbing it into your life.

The second practice is about God. Verse 3 says, "Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart." The two words there - love and faithfulness - would have been instantly known by the student at the time Proverbs was written. They are words that are used to refer to God and his covenant relationship with his people. For instance, Exodus 34:6 says, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." The word love there is one of my favorite words in the whole Bible - hesed, which means industrial strength love, love that is unconditional and doesn't give up.

Now is this verse referring to us developing the qualities of love and faithfulness, or is it about internalizing God's love and faithfulness? The answer is yes. It's both of these. The writer is telling us to do more than learn a set of principles or follow a set of techniques. You'll never change by learning five steps to wisdom or three steps to improving your life. You need God's industrial strength love and faithfulness. You need a relationship with God. And when you have it, it will begin to change your life, and the same qualities will begin to show up in your life as well.

The third practice is about ourselves. One song says, "Oh you can be what you wanna be, See what you wanna see. Believe in yourself, just believe in yourself. You can go where you wanna go, Do what you wanna do. Believe in yourself, just believe in yourself." We're told that the way to improve is to put more confidence in who we are, to believe in ourselves. But Proverbs gives us a different practice to wisdom. Verses 5 to 7 say:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

You know what this is telling us? Verse 5 gives us a picture of leaning on something that's unreliable for support. Have you ever grabbed a rail for support, only to find that if you put any wait on it, it would collapse and you'd go tumbling? That's the picture that the writer gives us. When we rely on ourselves and our ability to figure things out, we're putting weight on something that is incapable of bearing that weight, and we'll come crashing down. Later on, Proverbs says that we're worse than fools when we do this. Proverbs 26:12 says, "Do you see people who are wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for fools than for them."

Verse 7 tells us what we have to do in order to be wise. There's a paradox here. It says that we're never wiser than when we recognize our own foolishness, and we're never more foolish than when we think we're wise. You want to know who the wisest people are in this world? It's the ones who don't believe in themselves, who recognize their weaknesses and limitations, are deeply, continuously, and joyfully repentant, and who are depending on God for wisdom.

The fourth and final practice is about money. If you want to make people feel nervous, talk about money. I think the writer here gets practical in this area because he knows that our wallets are awfully close to our hearts. He says in verse 9, "Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops." The writer tells us to honor God with our wealth by giving our money, not when we're done paying our expenses but right off the top. You won't get this anywhere else. Nobody will tell you that the way to wisdom is to give your money away. It's completely countercultural, and yet it's a theme all throughout Scripture.

This is why we need Proverbs. You won't find a book at Chapters or Indigo that tells you to live this way. The way to live well is not through a set of techniques that makes life into what you want it to be. Instead, it's a set of practices that brings your soul in line with reality.

If you want to be wise, this is the path to wisdom. The way to live well is to embed Scripture into your life, to enter into relationship with God so his qualities become yours, to humbly repent before him, to not trust yourself, and then to give your money away so it doesn't become an idol in your life. You won't find this path to wisdom anywhere else, and it's why all the other paths ultimately disappoint.

But this passage doesn't just give the path to wisdom, it also gives the rewards.

Let's look at these rewards.

What happens if you incorporate these practices into your life and become wise? You'll see a set of rewards that are listed in this passage:

  • a long and prosperous life in verse 2
  • favor with God and other people in verse 4
  • a smooth path through life in verse 6
  • health and healing in verse 8
  • and riches in verse 10

Why should we expect these rewards if we live well? Because God has structured the world so that foolish living usually results in bad things happening. Making bad decisions usually leads to bad consequences. And wise living usually leads to good things happening, all things being equal. Those who acquire the skill of living well can usually expect a better life than those who live foolishly.

But it's here that as I read through this chapter that I began to struggle. Does anyone here know foolish people who are living very well, and people who seem to be wise who have had nothing but problems in their life? You even look in Scripture, and you realize that while wisdom usually leads to a better life than foolishness, there are all kinds of exceptions.

You only have to look at some of the other wisdom literature to realize this. Job suffers horribly, and not because he deserved it. Psalm 73 is the story of someone who almost lost his faith when he saw the wicked doing so well while the righteous suffer. Solomon himself says in Ecclesiastes, "There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 8:14). When we look at the wisdom literature as a whole, we recognize that while it's generally true that living wisely means living well, there are many cases of people who live well who don't prosper the way that we would expect.

This tells us that while there are rewards for living wisely, life is complex. But even this passage acknowledges that life will not all be blue skies and happy faces.

If you read verses 1 to 10, it looks as if it's going to all good. You think that we're going to live lives of wisdom, and then God will reward us. But then we get to verses 11 and 12, and it's something we don't expect at all:

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

And it's here that we see not only the path to wisdom, and the rewards of wisdom, but something much deeper: what happens when we fail.

Imagine this morning that I had a check for one million dollars made out in your name, dated May 1. And supposed I told you that this check would be your reward for living well for the rest of the month. But supposed I said that I would be following you, watching you very carefully, and the first time I saw you raise your voice, or lose your temper, or go even a little bit over the speed limit, or do anything wrong, I would rip up the check and you would lose the million dollars. How would you feel? You would feel incredible pressure. It would crush you. And you would never be able to do it. Every one here would forfeit the million dollars, because nobody here can measure up to that impossible standard.

Verses 1 to 10 give us what it will take for us to obtain wisdom, and what we'll generally receive if we succeed. But what happens when we don't measure up? If you take verses 1 to 10 alone, it will produce incredible pressure in your life. It will crush you, because you'll never be able to measure up to what wisdom demands of you.

But in verses 11 and 12, we see that God knows this. We see the recognition that it won't be all blue skies in your life. But neither will failure mean that God will abandon you. You will fail, and you will be disciplined and rebuked, and the discipline and rebuke won't be a sign of God's absence from your life. In fact, it will be a sign of his presence and his love.

You see, in verses 11 and 12 you encounter two things that we desperately need from God: his mercy and his justice. We need his mercy because if God didn't show us mercy we would be crushed. But we also need his justice because the last thing we need is an unjust God. There is lots of injustice in the world, and if God wasn't just, we would be completely without hope. So in these verses we have God's mercy: he doesn't write us off when we fail. But we also have his justice: he doesn't ignore our sins and our failures. He deals with them.

George MacDonald, a Scottish author and pastor who lived over a hundred years ago, said, "I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing; without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice." We need not only a path to wisdom, along with its rewards. We need a God who is just, but who doesn't write us off when we fail.

The message of the Bible is not, "Here's a set of principles you need to follow, and if you do these you will live." The message of the Bible is that God has shown us how to live, and we have failed. Every one of us have failed. But God has done something about it.

Proverbs tells us that God's mercy and justice meet when we're disciplined by God, but do you know where you see God's mercy and justice together most powerfully? At the cross. At the cross, the demands of God's justice were fully satisfied, and at the same time God showed mercy and grace to everyone who has sinned.

Justin Buzzard writes:

If you don't make it to the cross, if you read a few verses in Proverbs...without detecting how these sentences connect to the blood-stained beam of wood...you'll make your Bible reading and your relationship with God about your performance rather than about Jesus' performance. You'll gravitate away from the gospel and towards religion. Anxiety and fear will take the place of confidence, joy, and rest. Legalism will replace freedom. If your eyes don't catch a glimpse of the cross as you turn the pages of Scripture, you're likely to spend much of your day staring at yourself, wallowing in endless introspection, rather than staring at your Savior, delighting in his costly love.

Let's come to the table and delight not in our own performance, but in the blood-stained cross of our Savior. Let's look to him and delight in his costly love.

Pursuing Wisdom (Proverbs 2)

This past Wednesday night, we had "Coffee with the Elders." We had a great time - not only coffee, but tea and some amazing desserts. I think if people knew that we were serving desserts, we would have had more people out.

The idea of the evening was for the elders to talk about some of what we're working through, and then ask for what others are thinking about some of these same issues. I can't speak for everyone, but I think it was a very good night. And if I didn't mention it already, the desserts were amazing.

One of the questions that came up is how we change. Do you ever have the experience of waking up on Monday and thinking, "Where did last week go?" Life moves at such a frantic pace that it sometimes gives us the illusion of progress. But sometimes we stop and realize that we're not changing the way that we'd like to. We're not getting any better or any wiser.

Last week we began studying the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs is written to give us wisdom. Wisdom doesn't mean that we become brilliant people with all kinds of theoretical knowledge. It's much more practical than that. Wisdom means that we become good at living.

So the question is: how exactly do we acquire this wisdom?

According to Proverbs, there are two paths in life. One of them is the default path, the path of foolishness. This is the path of going with the flow. But then is the path of wisdom.

What you have in this chapter, at least in the original language, is one long poetic sentence in the form of an appeal from a father to a son, and it essentially teaches us two things:

  • first, how we can obtain wisdom; and
  • second, what will happen if we do

So let's look at these two questions. What will it take for us to become wise, good at living, and what will happen if we do?

First, what's it going to take for us to become wise?

Here, the book of Proverbs is brutally honest with us. It's going to cost you. Choosing the path of wisdom isn't going to be something that's free, that doesn't require something from you. It's going to cost you something, and you need to be prepared for this.

You've probably seen a cheap deal in the newspaper. When you go to phone and book the flight, or change your telephone carrier, or buy the car, you all of a sudden discover that the price in the newspaper isn't the price at all. There is the airport improvement fee, the transportation tax, the security fee, the immigration fee, the convenience fee, the system access fee, and so on. We've all been there, right? Nobody likes a bait and switch routine, in which you discover that the costs are far more than you bargained for after the fact.

Proverbs isn't like that, though. In the first four verses of chapter 2, we learn that that there's a cost to choosing the path of wisdom. They come in the form of two conditions.

Here's the first condition from verses 1 and 2:

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding...

The first condition is that we're prepared to receive wisdom. This is the easier of the two conditions, but it's still not easy. It assumes that wisdom is not something that we discover, or that we come to ourselves. We need to humble ourselves and be prepared to receive wisdom from an external source - in this case, from biblical wisdom.

Let me ask you a question. The last time you ripped open a box, and you had the do-hickey in one hand and the manual in the other, which one did you go for? If you're like most of us, you thought, "I'll get to the manual if I get stuck."

I can relate to the story of the teenager who wanted to try out his surfboard. Oblivious to the warning flags, he dashed straight out into the waves. Immediately, an authoritative voice boomed, "You are an inexperienced surfer. Return to shore." Embarrassed, he came ashore but not without asking the lifeguard how he knew he was a novice. "Easy. You've got your wet suit on backwards."

Verses 1 and 2 tell us that if we're going to be wise, we need to slow down and actually become receptive to what God's Word says about how to live. We can't just blunder our way through life trying to figure it out. We must humble ourselves before God, gaining what we need from his commands and his Word.

I'm increasingly discovering how important it is to be receptive to God's Word if we really want to change. It doesn't mean that we ignore other sources, but it means that Scripture has a unique and authoritative role. It means that we read it and consult it, but even more that we meditate on it, storing up the passages that don't seem relevant right now. It means that we come expectantly to hear God's Word preached - not because I'm preaching it, but because it is God's Word.

The second condition is in verses 3 and 4. There are actually two conditions, but they kind of go together. The first condition is somewhat passive: that we prepare ourselves to be receptive. The second condition is a lot more active: It's that we actively pursue wisdom. Read verses 3 and 4:

...indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure...

One Sunday we couldn't find our son after church. It turns out that it was all a misunderstanding, that he was actually safe, but for about an hour we were engaged in a frantic search. There were all the things we see in these verses: calling out, crying aloud, looking and searching for something valuable. There was nothing passive or half-hearted about the search. It consumed everything.

This is the picture we have in this second condition: that we begin an aggressive search for God's wisdom on how to live. It's important but not enough to be receptive. We have to do more than just sit back and receive what God says, although that's important. We have to clamor for it, to aggressively search for it. It is going to take some urgency. The metaphors assume that it will take a great deal of effort and sacrifice, but that's what it will take.

So here we go. What's it going to take for us at Richview to become really skilled at living well, at just being plain good at living? It won't happen by sitting back or going with the flow. It won't happen automatically. It won't even happen by just sitting and listening to sermons or reading the Bible. It's going to cost us. It's going to demand that we become serious about receiving everything the Bible says about how to live, and not only that we do this, but that our lives become a ruthless pursuit of what the Bible says about how to live. This is what it's going to take if we're going to learn the skill of living well.

What happens if we pursue wisdom?

I'm almost exhausted just thinking about this. So we need to ask: if it takes so much effort, why bother?

The rest of the chapter tells us what happens when we pursue wisdom. It's going to take commitment, but if we pursue wisdom, three things are going to happen.

The first is in verses 5-11. Let's just read verses 5 and 6:

then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

If we pursue wisdom, this passage says, then God will grant us wisdom. He'll grant us the fear of the LORD - which as we saw last week is absolutely necessary to living skillfully. There's no such thing as living well unless we understand who God is, and understand who we are before him. If we pursue wisdom, God will grant us the wisdom that we desire.

There's a bit of a paradox here. Do we pursue wisdom, or does God grant it? The answer, according to this passage: yes. Wisdom is both something that we pursue, and something that God grants. Seek wisdom, Proverbs says, and you will find God. Find God, and you will gain wisdom. It's something that we must strive to achieve, but it's also a gift from God. This keeps it from being a self-salvation project. We can't make ourselves wise, but if we pursue it, God gives us wisdom.

This is really important for us to know. I lost my hat a week ago. It's an expensive hat. I looked for it, but after a while it became obvious that no matter how much harder I looked, I wasn't going to find it, and so I gave up. You give up in pursuing something when it's obvious that further effort won't get you anywhere. But it's not like that with wisdom, or with God. Those who seek wisdom, those who seek God, always find. Those who seek pursue wisdom, this passage says, will always succeed in their pursuit, because God gives wisdom to those who seek it.

The second thing that will happen is that we'll avoid a lot of dangers in our lives. Verses 12 to 19 give us to kinds of dangers that we'll avoid. The first is the general mess that comes from following people who are not pursuing wisdom. Verses 12 to 15 say:

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.

When you aren't pursuing wisdom, you end up going with the flow. Going with the flow means that you'll follow where everyone else is going, and you'll end up getting into a lot of trouble. I could give you a lot of examples in my life that I've just followed along, and ended up in a heap of trouble. We could probably have a testimony time this morning of when that's happened to you. We'll save ourselves from foolish, self-destructive behavior when we pursue wisdom.

Another example of what we'll avoid is in verses 16-19: easy sex. We're going to return to this subject later in Proverbs. But already you see in verse 16 that the up-front appeal of easy sex is very seductive. There's so much sex available in the media, and in real life, that looks very nice up front. But you're never told how much it costs up front. The cost of pornography or of sexual immorality is much higher than we bargain for, as we read in verses 18-19. My purpose isn't to make anyone feel guilty, because many of us have struggled with sexual temptation, and many of us have failed at various points in our lives. We'll return and get some help with this in a few weeks. For now it's enough to say that pursuing wisdom will help protect us from the negative consequences of the easy sex that's so available to us today.

So pursuing wisdom is worth it because it if we pursue it, God will give it to us and we'll avoid many dangers. One more benefit in verses 20-22:

Thus you will walk in the ways of the just
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will live in the land,
and the blameless will remain in it;
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

When we pursue wisdom, these verses tell us, we'll find life. This was written in the context of the old covenant with Israel, in which God said he would allow the people to live in the promised land if they remained faithful to him, but he would cut them off from the land if they were faithless. This doesn't apply to us today, but the principle applies: there are two paths in life. One leads to life, and one leads to death. If you want to live, then you need to take the path of wisdom.

We began this morning by asking how we can be changed, how we can avoid just drifting through life, waking up one day and realizing that we've made a mess of our lives and ended up where we don't want to be. We've seen what it's going to take: it's going to take being receptive to God's Word, making the time to absorb it into our lives. We've seen that it will take an active pursuit of God and his wisdom.

But we've also seen that if we go on this pursuit, it will cost us, but we will succeed, we'll be saved from many mistakes, and ultimately we'll live.

A thousand years later Jesus talked of a similar search for wisdom. He said:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

I invite you to embark on this ruthless quest, not just for wisdom but for God himself, knowing that those who seek will find, that those who gain Jesus are preserved from all kinds of dangers, and in the end find life, and life eternal. Pursuing wisdom - pursuing Jesus - is costly, but God gives wisdom and life to those who seek it.