Two Ways to Live (Sermon)
In the classic Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart’s character (George Bailey) decides he’s going to jump off a bridge. Life has gone wrong, and he’s going to end it. Before he can jump, an angel named Clarence appears and takes him for a tour of the town. Everything is different. It’s what would have happened if George Bailey had never been born. He has the benefit of seeing two completely different versions of life in the town. One version with him and one without him.
The book of Proverbs does something similar. It shows us two different versions of life in this world. One version with wisdom and one version without. One version listening to God’s wisdom and one version doing your best on your own. Just like It’s a Wonderful Life, the two versions are drastically different, and one is far better than the other.
The book of Proverbs show us that apart from God’s wisdom, we will live foolish lives which inevitably lead to destruction. It also shows us that God wants each of us to live a full, joy-filled live leading to even greater joy in the future. Two ways to live—a life of wisdom or a life of folly.
We’ve spent the summer examining this contrast, and we’ve seen how it’s worked out in every facet of our lives.
It’s worked out in how we use our tongue. It’s natural and even commended in society when we use our tongue to criticize others. We see examples of people lashing out with their tongues in order to get ahead. We’ve all witnessed and even participated in using our tongues to condemn, criticize, and cut people down. But God shows us a different way to use our tongues. We use our tongues to support and encourage. We use our tongues to bring healing and life. We use our tongues to speak words which lead to health and flourishing.
The contrast is seen in how we work. We’re tempted to be lazy, which doesn’t only mean a lack of effort, but effort spent on ourselves and our own desires. But God’s way—the way of wisdom—is to be diligent. We use our gifts, abilities, and opportunities to bless others and help them get ahead. We reject a self-centered and self-serving view of work, and see work as a way to diligently steward the strength God has given us.
We looked at the contrast between how we naturally view ourselves and others and how God says we should view ourselves and others. Natural wisdom says, “Put yourself first. You’re most important. Do whatever necessary to get ahead. You’re worth it.” God says, “Be humble. Serve others. Put others first. Don’t be haughty or high-minded.” Humility leads to life. Pride leads to destruction.
We studied the two different approaches to family. As parents, we discipline because we love our kids. Even though we’re told true love is permissive, we choose to believe God who says true love is revealed in discipline. In our marriages, we choose intimacy over immorality. We choose a life of sexual purity because God says it’s the only path to lasting joy.
We react to life’s difficulties differently because of God’s wisdom. If wisdom is navigating God’s world the way God intends, then we trust Him when life takes an unexpected detour. Instead of responding in anger and lashing out, we seek to respond in patience, trusting God to work for our good and His glory.
These two ways to live come from two drastically different viewpoints. One view is rooted in the immediate. It’s motivated by what seems best to me right now. The other view is motivated by what God says is best long-term. One is after immediate gratification, and the other waits for eternal, unending gratification. One view leads us to reject the long-term effects in the hopes of short-term benefit. God’s wisdom teaches us to do all things with an eternal mindset.
All the contrasts we’ve studied this summer—how we use our tongue, how we work, how we view ourselves, how we relate in our families, how we react to life’s difficulties, and how we think about the future—all of them hinge on where we look for wisdom. Is wisdom something we produce or is wisdom something we receive? Does wisdom have a human source or do we need divine help? Proverbs teaches us true wisdom comes from God. All human wisdom is folly and is opposed to God’s wisdom.
This morning as we wrap up our study on Proverbs I want to end with one final encouragement to pursue God’s wisdom. I plan to answer two questions: How do you find wisdom? How does wisdom benefit you?
How Do You Find Wisdom?
Wisdom comes through a process. It’s not a data dump. Wouldn’t that be nice? If we could just plug into the mainframe, and wisdom would be instantly downloaded. I would love to be able to take out my little USB memory stick, download all the wisdom I would ever need, insert it into my forehead and be set. But it doesn’t work that way. There are 3 steps to finding wisdom.
Step #1: Listen to wisdom
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; (Proverbs 2:1-2 ESV)
In the previous chapter, Wisdom cried aloud in the street (1:20-21). She raised her voice in the markets and on noisy street corners. You could hear her at the city gates. Wisdom wants to be heard. God is not hiding wisdom. He gives you wisdom in His Word, in wise people, and in your church. You need to listen.
The father challenges his son to “receive” wisdom (v.1). Receive could be translated “store up.” I picture it this way. When I was a kid, our television set had antennae on the back. We called them rabbit ears because of the shape—two pieces connected like a “v”. In order to get reception, we would move those ears all around, hoping the station would come in clearly (it never did). Often the station would go in and out. That’s often how we listen to wisdom—catching a little here and a little there. The father wants his son to “store it up.” Trade in the bunny ears for a DVR. Be connected to wisdom all the time. Record it. Save it. Don’t let it fade in and out.
He’s not only supposed to “store up” wisdom (v.1), but he’s also supposed to “treasure up” or “hide away” wisdom. This is one of the reasons Christians have regularly encouraged each other to memorize Scripture. Memorizing Scripture is a way of hiding it away. Think of Jesus’ example. Remember He is the prototypical wise man. He stored up and hid away Scripture, and when He was tempted by the devil, He knew exactly how to respond.
Next (v.2), the father challenges his son to “be attentive” to wisdom. I don’t know if you saw the clip from the Olympics last week, but an American pole-vaulter is sprinting down the runway when the national anthem starts playing. He immediately comes to a stop, drops the pole, and comes to attention. That’s a great picture of how we should be when it comes to wisdom. We drop whatever we’re doing and come to attention at the first sound of wisdom.
In order to do that, we must be active listeners. My teachers in school would always challenge me to be an active listener. What does an active listener look like? They have pen and paper in hand, not yawning, not distracted, not bored. Are you an active listener to God’s Word?
The son not only needs an attentive ear, but he also needs to “incline his heart” to wisdom (v.2). Incline is a word that brings a picture to mind. It’s what people do at the end of a good movie. They lean forward in their seats—they are inclining themselves. I can picture this one couple from when I was in college who ate together every day. They would sit across the table from each other, lean forward, stare into each other’s eyes, with mammoth grins plastered across their faces, and make the rest of us nauseous. They were active listeners with attentive ears and inclined hearts.
If you would like an inclined heart, one way to get one is to ask God for help.
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:36-37 ESV)
Ask God to help you listen with an inclined heart to His wisdom. It may require Him turning your eyes from worthless things. But He’s glad to help.
Step #2: Call for wisdom
Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, (Proverbs 2:3 ESV)
You don’t become wise by going through the motions. Did you ever have a teacher say to you in school, “You’re just going through the motions?” They meant you’re sitting here, physically present, but unengaged. You are here, but you don’t care. You don’t want to learn.
Wisdom comes to those who desperately want wisdom. You have to want wisdom enough to raise your voice and to cry out. There’s a sense of desperation. This verse reminds me of the plot of every old Kung Fu movie. They all had the same plot. An aspiring warrior seeks out the reluctant sensei and pleads with him to teach him Kung Fu so he can right some sort of wrong. The sensei refuses, and then the novice begs him, pleads with him, even raises his voice in desperation.
Wisdom comes to the one who wants it, and we demonstrate a true longing for wisdom when we long for it enough to call out for it.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5 ESV)
How did Solomon get wisdom? By asking for it.
Step 3: Seek for wisdom
If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, (Proverbs 2:4 ESV)
When I moved here, I needed to switch banks to a bank which had a local branch. I wasn’t sure which bank to use. I asked around, and then something came in the mail. An advertisement: Open a new checking account with us and we’ll give you $150. Guess what I did? I opened a checking account with them. I found my bank. I saw the value of opening the checking account, and the value motivated me to act. If we understand the value of wisdom, we will be moved to action. We will seek it.
Maybe this is the disconnect for you. You don’t seek wisdom because you don’t see its value. It sounds fine, but there’s no compelling motivation to pursue wisdom. Let me be honest:
You’ll only seek wisdom if you realize you’re a fool.
You’ll only seek wisdom if you see how bankrupt your own wisdom is.
You’ll only seek wisdom if you acknowledge the limitations of your knowledge and understanding.
You’ll only seek wisdom if you recognize the fragile limits of your perspective.
Maybe you’re wondering how to seek for wisdom. It’s not found on Amazon. You can’t pick it up at Wal-Mart. How do you seek for wisdom? By studying God’s Word. One day Jesus was telling a story about two men, each one built a house. One man built it on the sand (much quicker, easier, and appealing), and the other built it on the rock (longer, harder, and initially less rewarding). When the storms came, one house was destroyed and one was unaffected. What’s the point?
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. (Matthew 7:24, 26 ESV)
I like how one commentator sums it up: “Wisdom requires effort. Wisdom repays effort.”[i] Attaining wisdom doesn’t come by floating on a tube down the lazy river. Wisdom comes by swimming upstream, against the current. If you want wisdom, listen to wisdom, call for wisdom, and seek for wisdom.
How Does Wisdom Benefit You?
If we’re honest, we rarely put our energy and effort into something that has no benefit. The benefit may be small or temporary, but the benefit is what drives us to do it. We mow our lawns because of the benefit of having good curb appeal or a place for kids to play. We choose one restaurant for the benefit of our wallets and another for the benefit of our bellies. We make decision because we see some benefit to that decision. The remainder of this chapter shows us the benefits to gaining wisdom.
Relationship with God
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; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. (Proverbs 2:5-8 ESV)
You can’t find wisdom without finding God, because wisdom begins with the fear of God (1:8). Wisdom begins when you start to relate to God properly—as the One who knows and controls all things, and guides you into wisdom (v.6). In verses 7-8, we see wisdom helps us understand God’s care for His people and how He relates to us. Wisdom not only shows us that God is a shield for His children, but it also helps us use the shield when we’re under attack. Wisdom reminds us that God is watching over the paths we take. It keeps us from a foolish and rash decision because it’s instilled in us confidence in God’s care.
This is the main difference between empty, human wisdom and God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom shows us how to relate to God in His world. Human wisdom ignores God, and therefore, God calls it the height of foolishness. Any supposed wisdom that does not connect to God is foolishness. Listen to how human wisdom ignores God:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:20-23 ESV)
True wisdom leads us deeper in deeper into relationship with God. It shows us how God thinks, reminds us God cares, and helps us walk through God’s world in a way that pleases Him. In fact, the only way for us to understand wisdom is through God’s revelation of it (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Trying to find wisdom apart from a relationship with God is a fool’s errand.
Friend, you need to hear this. The only way for you to find wisdom is to listen to God. God says your sin has darkened your understanding and is leading you to a false kind of worship. The result of that worship is condemnation and judgment. God is calling you away from your sin and the emptiness of your own wisdom and to a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus. Jesus is the only way to God. His death for sin and resurrection from death opens the way to true wisdom. But for you to embrace Jesus as the only wise path to God means you must reject your own foolish thinking. You cannot find wisdom and deliverance inside yourself. Wisdom and deliverance from folly come only through Jesus. Listen to this warning and promise:
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26 ESV)
Discernment in Decision-making
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; (Proverbs 2:9 ESV)
Wisdom will help you understand righteousness (how to make right decisions). It will help you understand justice and equity (how to treat people fairly), and wisdom will help you identify every good path (what decisions should drive your life).
For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; (Proverbs 2:10 ESV)
God gives you wisdom. He doesn’t give you a web address, where you log on to get wisdom. He makes wisdom your constant companion, guiding you in making decisions. Once wisdom comes into your heart, you’ll long for more knowledge in order to better understand the decisions you need to make. This is the opposite of the fool who hates knowledge (v.7). Knowledge only impedes the fool from making the decision he already wants to make. I think of the people who tell you their opinion, and then say, “But I don’t want to talk about it.” They’re not concerned about the truth. They don’t love knowledge. They just want to be heard.
In verses 11-15, we see wisdom helps us make the kind of decisions that prevent unwanted consequences, seen here as walking down a path menaced by wicked men.
Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 2:11-15 ESV)
Imagine taking a wrong turn in a foreign city and and stumbling down a dark, forbidden alley. You end up dealing with all the unintended consequences of a foolish decision. Wisdom gives you the discernment to avoid these situations.
Protection from Destruction
In Proverbs, the adulterous woman stands as more than an adulterous woman. She is not only a warning about adultery, but she is the embodiment of Folly. We see this clearly in chapter 9 where Lady wisdom and Lady Folly are opposing each other. The human embodiment of foolishness is adultery. It’s why James in his letter to the church calls us spiritual adulterers when we love and listen to the world instead of God.
So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God; for her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the departed; none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life. (Proverbs 2:16-19 ESV)
Why is adultery the human embodiment of foolishness?
Both adultery and folly deceive and flatter, hiding what they really are (16).
Both adultery and folly choose a temporary thrill over lasting relationships (17a).
Both adultery and folly break covenant (17b). Adultery breaks the covenant of marriage just like Adam and Eve broke their covenant with God, just like Israel broke her covenant with God, and just like we break our covenant with God.
Both adultery and foolishness lead to death and destruction (18-19).
One of the reasons we listen to wisdom, cry out for wisdom, and seek for wisdom is because we know where a life of foolishness leads. The one who lives and acts as if there is no God (the fool) will one day meet the God they deny exists. They will not meet Him as Savior, but as Judge. A life of foolishness brings God’s judgment.
Lady wisdom keeps you from Lady Folly, thereby protecting you from destruction. We discussed this last week. When we learn to love something greater (wisdom), then love for the weaker and worthless object (foolishness) is expelled from our hearts. The greatest protection against a wasted life is loving God’s wisdom.
In the mythological story of the Sirens, two different ships made it past these evil and hideous creatures. The first was piloted by Odysseus, who had his men put wax in their ears so they wouldn’t be seduced by the Siren’s song. Then he was tied to the mast so he wouldn’t attempt to reach them. The second successful voyage was by Orpheus. He didn’t tie himself to the mast; instead, he played more beautiful music. His music drowned out the Siren’s song and allowed them to sail safely by.[ii] The beauty of wisdom protects us from the destruction of folly.
Direction for the Future
So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. (Proverbs 2:20 ESV)
The result of gaining wisdom is walking in the way of the good and keeping to the paths of the upright. It’s written as a cause and effect. If you gain wisdom, you will walk the right paths. Why do so many people struggle with their future decisions? Could it be the result of a lifetime of ignoring wisdom? We so often want God’s will for the big decisions while ignoring His will each day. Seek wisdom every day, and you will understand what God wants you to do that day.
This passage ends with a warning and a promise. Notice the diverging paths of the wise and the fool.
For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it, but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. (Proverbs 2:21-22 ESV)
God promises the land to those who gain wisdom. The land is a picture of God’s blessing and care. In other words, your ultimate future in God’s good land is dependent on gaining wisdom.
This is where the quest for wisdom pushes us again to Jesus. Who secures for us a safe and prosperous future enjoying all of God’s blessings? Jesus does. He becomes our wisdom and secures for us God’s blessing for the future in the place God has promised.
Let me encourage you with this: someday wise living will be easy. But for now, we live in a foolish world. We live in a world where people fight over what bathroom to use, a world filled with unspeakable acts of terrorism, a world where the political scene has gone crazy. As Christians, we’re exiles in this world, and we feel that more and more. We’re swimming against the culture. But we’re not the first.
Moses survived Egypt.
Daniel thrived in Babylon.
David endured exile.
Paul impacted Rome.
Brothers and sisters, we’re not the first confronted with two distinctly different ways to live. We’re not the first to be outsiders in our culture. We’re not the first to struggle with living wisely in a foolish world. And there’s hope in that. The same God who protected Moses, promoted Daniel, and prospered Paul dwells in us. By His grace and through His wisdom, we cannot only survive; we can turn this foolish world upside down.
This sermon was originally preached at Calvary Baptist Church in 2015.
[i] Dan Phillips, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs (Woodlands, TX: Kress, 2011), p. 119.
[ii] Jim Newheiser, Opening up Proverbs, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2008), 54.