How do we weigh the different choices that face us each day? And how do we handle the unique trials that accompany those choices? Well the easy answer is to get wisdom. But getting wisdom isn't so easy, is it?! If it were, there wouldn't be so many fallen Christians lying by the wayside. In this message Stephen reminds us that the road to wisdom is a treacherous path . . . and there are many thieves who line the way.
Walking Wisely in a World of Fools
In the preface of a commentary I have on the Book of Proverbs, Robert Alden has these words; “Since 1955 sheer factual knowledge has doubled every five years. Our generation possesses more data about the universe and human personality than all previous generations put together. Think of it this way: high school graduates today have been exposed to more information about the world than Plato, Aristotle, and the [Apostle Paul] combined. In terms of facts alone, neither Aristotle nor the Apostle Paul could pass a college entrance exam today.” (end quote)
Robert L. Alden, Proverbs: A Commentary on an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice (Baker, 1983), p.7
What I find especially ironic is that much of this quote is now terribly out of date. He wrote this in 1983 and he is now way behind on his facts.
According to a recent report by the Education Secretary of the United States, technical knowledge alone is actually doubling not every 5 years, but now every 2 years; which means, students starting a four year technical degree, half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study. Get this, by the year 2010, technical knowledge is predicted to double every 72 hours.
Imagine, in the 1950’s technical knowledge – machines, computers, gizmos, doubled every 5 years. It’s been doubling now every 2 years. Soon it will be doubling every 3 ½ days.
This report went on to say that some of the top 10 jobs in America did not even exist in the year 2000; which means we are preparing students to hold jobs that haven’t been created, using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know will exist.
How do you get ready for that?
Listen to even more staggering facts from the Department of Education:
-the number of text messages sent and received every day exceed the population of the world.
-If you read the New York Times newspaper for one week, you will have been exposed to more information than the average person came across in a lifetime in the 1800’s.
How do you prepare for a future when you have no idea what it looks like? How do manage the change all around you?
And how do you get ready to handle forms of temptation and kinds of pressure that were inconceivable 25 years ago? The internet was something we couldn’t have conceived of 25 years ago . . . until Al Gore invented it.
Listen, when my twin sons were born 22 years ago if you had asked me how to talk to them about the problem and temptation of pornography that they would begin facing in life, I would have been thinking about how to shield them from magazines.
The truth is, with all our knowledge, the world is not a better place; in fact it is in the same mess it’s always been in.
The only thing that’s changed is the speed of change and the equipment.
And all this information and technology advancements have not transformed our world into a better place.
Alumni from noted universities have mastered information about a narrow slice of life but can’t make it out of the first grade when it comes to living successfully with others.
One author said that society today is populated with a bumper crop of brilliant failures. He went on to say, we probably do not have more fools than other nations, but in America fools are better organized. Ibid
The truth is, knowledge is not enough. Even if it doubled every 24 hours, the world would still be full of educated disasters.
Why? Because while some things change, some things never change.
In other words, the conditions of the human experience may change rapidly, but the condition of the human heart does not.
Yes, there are now 3,000 new books published every single day in our world.
Further proving the words of Paul to Timothy that the world of unbelievers is always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).
That’s why you can graduate at the top of your class and fail at the basic institutions of life.
There’s gotta be more than knowledge.
Facts do not provide the foundation for life.
That’s what Proverbs is all about.
Turn in your collection of Proverbs to chapter 1 and verse 7.
This is the key verse – the theme statement – the theological premise of the entire collection.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
Knowledge and wisdom and instruction are synonyms in this context to merely state the premise of Proverbs. They all allow a person to make the right decision for the right reason at the right time and apply it in the right spirit in order to attain the right effect, only because they place the highest priority on their relationship with God. And since fools are people who neither believe who God is nor desire a relationship with Him, they ultimately and effectively despise knowledge, wisdom and instruction – the latter part of verse 7 says.
Which means a fool is someone who is unable to make the right decision for the right reason at the right time and apply it in the right spirit in order to attain the right effect.
By the way, in the Bible, a fool is not someone with a low IQ. It has nothing to do with their SAT score.
The word “fool” is used some 26 times in the Old Testament and all but 7 of them are found in the Book of Proverbs.
The fool is described in living color throughout this Book.
Let me give you 6 characteristics that I uncovered:
- He is arrogantly unaccountable. Solomon writes, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel (Proverbs 12:15)
- The fool is unruly as Solomon describes, “A fool’s anger is known at once, but a prudent man conceals dishonor.” In other words, he holds back his dishonorable feelings. (Proverbs 12:16)
- The fool is not only unaccountable and unruly but unteachable. A fool rejects his father’s discipline or training, but he who regards reproof is sensible. (Proverbs 15:5) Solomon writes in Proverbs 26:10, Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. He just won’t learn. In fact, the fool cannot imagine himself mistaken. But the root of his problem is not mental, it is spiritual.
- The fool is also uncontainable, Proverbs 20:3 says, “Keeping away from strife – literally, ceasing from strife – is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel.
In other words, most men will consider it honorable to stop an argument, but the fool loves to argue almost for argument sake.
- The fool is not only described in Proverbs as unaccountable and unruly and unteachable and uncontainable, the fool is also incorrigible.
In other words, there is an irredeemable, incurable side to his foolishness since he denies the existence of God Who alone can rescue him; the fool persists in loving his arrogant self-view and sinful lifestyle.
Solomon says, “Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him.” (Proverbs 27:22)
Sometimes you shake your head over the foolishness of people.
I pulled a few Associated Press reports down as illustrations of foolishness that you probably couldn’t pound out of these people.
This one from Texas: 45 year old Amy Brasher was arrested in San Antonio after a mechanic reported to police that 18 packages of marijuana were packed in the engine compartment of the car which she had brought to the mechanic for an oil change. According to police, Brasher later said that she didn’t realize that the mechanic would have to raise the hood to change the oil.
Here’s one from Ann Arbor; a man walked into Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan at 7:50 am, flashed a gun and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. So the man ordered onion rings but the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast. The frustrated man just turned and walked away.
Two men in a Kentucky town tried to pull the front off a cash machine by running a chain from the machine to the bumper of their pickup truck. Instead of pulling the front panel off the machine, they pulled the bumper off their truck. (Must have been a Chevy). Scared, they left the scene and drove home with the chain still attached to the machine. With their bumper still attached to the chain. With their license plate still on the bumper.
The Message paraphrases it to read, “You cannot pound foolishness out of a fool.”
Why? Because at the heart of the issue is an unredeemed person. He has chosen his foolishness.
One more: the obvious The fool is unholy. David wrote earlier, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)
And as one man said, “Where there is no God, anything is permissible.”
That’s why fools mock at sin – Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:9; literally, fools mock guilt. They are committed to unholy living. They mock at those with moral absolutes. They say that your guilt over sin is simply the residue of the Victorian era . . . too much religion . . . shrug it off.
That’s why they can be brilliant engineers and doctors and mechanics and school teachers but utterly devoid of common sense and utterly incapable of selfless relationships and utterly wayward in moral attitudes and actions.
By biblical definition a fool is someone whose mind is closed to God; his conscience is seared to sin; and his heart is fully devoted to self.
The wise person on the other hand is the one who fears the Lord
Solomon put it this way, Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
The Hebrew word translated beginning – the fear of the Lord is the beginning – this word is used 50 times elsewhere and can be easily understood as something that is foundational or best.
The Hebrew root is an offshoot of the word for “head” which suggests that which is first or primary.
One Old Testament scholar wrote, It isn’t merely a starting point, it is a foundation to build upon.
Peter A. Steveson, A Commentary on Proverbs (BJU Press, 2001), p. 9
In other words, Solomon is saying, “The best of knowledge; the foundation of all true knowledge is a relationship of awe and respect and intimacy and worship with the faithful and true God.”
In Proverbs 9:10, Solomon said it again, only a little differently as he wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
In other words, the ability to make the right decision at the right time in the right spirit for the right reason to achieve the right effect is a relationship with the Creator God.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning – the foundation for knowledge.
Now, we’d better understand what “the fear of the Lord” means, because that’s the beginning of knowledge.
This phrase is a compound expression. You can’t figure it out by separating the two ideas and studying the words “fear” and then “Yahweh” separately.
That would be like separating “butterfly” and studying all you could about “butter” and then studying the “fly”. You’d end up with an animal that melts in the sun.
Adapted from Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 100
Many attempt just that with this expression. They study the word fear and then transpose that back into their relationship with God.
Certainly the concept of “fearing God” is a biblical concept.
Everyone you read about that has an audience with God usually faints with fear.
Isaiah cried upon seeing a vision of God, “Woe is me, I am doomed.” (Isaiah 6:5)
The Apostle John saw the glory of God and fell down at his feet like a dead man. (Revelation 1:17)
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of an angry God (Hebrews 10:31)
Even Daniel, after seeing the angelic visitor which may very well have been a Christophany began to tremble uncontrollably and had no strength. (Daniel 10)
So is Solomon saying that the wise person walks around with a sense of dread and terror . . . fainting spells now and then as he encounters the living God?
Is this how you walk wisely in a world of fools?
I believe the best way to interpret this phrase, is to let the Bible interpret it for us. In fact, this is true with any text. The synthesis of scripture, or to use another phrase, the analogy of scripture is part of a correct approach to understanding scripture.
This phrase used by Solomon is wonderfully explained and expanded when all you do is get out your concordance and track the phrase throughout scripture.
Here are three living characteristics of someone who fears the Lord:
First, there is joyful delight in the word of God.
David wrote, “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments.” (Psalm 112:1)
In Psalm 119:103 David writes, “How sweet are your words to my taste, yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”
You say, “Okay, the one who fears the Lord obviously loves His word.”
But the fear of the Lord is more than just reading and loving the word of God.
Secondly, there is a passionate desire to apply the word of God.
David wrote in Psalm 128:1, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.”
Solomon spelled it out even more clearly in Proverbs 14:2, “He who walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises God.”
A wise person not only delights in the word of God and applies the truth of God to his life, but he also: thirdly, places his confidence in the promises of God.
David wrote in Psalm 147:11, “The Lord favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His loving-kindess.”
These are the characteristics of those who fear the Lord.
Let me quickly ask and answer another question, “How do you develop the fear of the Lord in order to walk wisely in world of fools?”
First, by constant exposure to the word of God.
That’s obvious, right? If the fear of the Lord is evidenced by the study and application of the word of God, then the way to develop greater fear of the Lord is to study the word even more.
I found it interesting that more than 7 million people each year go online to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. And one of the top 10 words looked up, is the word, ‘integrity’. One college professor commented on this interesting search by saying, “Perhaps integrity is becoming so scarce, its definition is now unfamiliar.”
We have the idea a wise person is a person who has all the answers about important things regarding relationships, integrity, communication, honesty, purity, etc. etc. The truth is a wise person in the Bible is one who actually knows where to take His questions.
Listen to what David wrote in Psalm 119:38, “Establish (confirm) your Word to your servant which produces in me the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is a relationship; with the written word and the Living word.
2. Secondly then, the way to develop the fear of the Lord further is through prayer.
Listen to this prayer of David, paraphrased in the Message:
God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course.
Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—my whole life one long, obedient response. Guide me down the road of your commandments; I love traveling this freeway! Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot. Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way. Affirm your promises to me— promises made to all who fear you. See how hungry I am for your counsel; preserve my life through your righteous ways! (Psalm 119:33ff.)
What a prayer . . . a prayer that will help you swim in this ocean of change and information.
Third, not only does the word and prayer develop our wise walk:
The fear of God is also developed through wise counsel.
Parents, peers, friends – all described throughout the Book of Proverbs that we’ll uncover together.
For there is indeed safety in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:4)
Remember, a wise person according to the scripture admits he doesn’t have all the answers.
I came across this fascinating account of Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot in the late 1900’s. He was flying an F-86 Sabre over a lake in the Sierras when he decided to buzz a friends’ house near the edge of the lake . . . just rattle his windows for fun. During a slow roll, he suddenly felt his aileron lock. This is the hinged part of the edge of the wing that you see out your plane window that either flips up or down. Yeager said, “It was a hairy moment, flying about 150 feet off the ground upside down.” A lesser experienced pilot might have panicked with fatal results, but Yeager let off the G’s, pushed up the nose and sure enough, the aileron unlocked. Climbing to 15,000 feet, where it was safer, Yeager tried the maneuver again. Every time that he rolled, the problem reoccurred. He knew that 3 or 4 pilots had died under similar circumstances, but to date, investigators were puzzled as to the source of the Sabre’s fatal flaw. Yeager landed and when to his superior with a report, and the inspectors went to work. They found that a bolt on the aileron cylinder had been installed upside down. Which seemed right side up, but this particular bolt had to be inserted with the head down rather that at the top. The culprit was found in a North American plant. An older man on the assembly line who had ignored the instructions about how to insert the bolt because – you don’t screw in a bolt upside down – you put it in from the top down. He knew better! Yeager says that nobody ever told the man how many pilots he had killed.
Matt Friedeman, The Accountability Connection (Victor Books, 1992), citation: preachingtoday.com
What a foolish man.
A wise person is one who says, “Lord, give me the directions . . . I don’t know better than You.”
I’ll never navigate my way through this maze of information – and change. How do you walk with wisdom in a world of fools?
The foundation . . . the primary thing is not having all the answers, but having a living, vital, open, honest committed relationship with your Redeemer.
So, even when technology changes so fast and the world around you seems unsettled, you don’t have to know what’s coming!
- you cling with reverence and respect to the Rock;
- you apply with passion His revelation;
- and you rejoice in the promises and assurance of His redemption.
This is how you walk wisely in a world of fools.