What Makes for Wise
|Trinity Two Sermon| Rolf D. Preus| Proverbs 9:10| June 14, 2015|
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
If we are animals, then we can follow whatever drives drive us and there can be nothing wrong with that. When I was a boy, we had a Tom cat by the name of Smokey. Smokey enjoyed killing. We never accused him of murder. Smokey would mate with as many female cats as he chose, and didn’t seem to be very particular about who they were. But we never accused Smoky of fornication or adultery. A Tom cat isn’t promiscuous because he’s a cat and he’s only doing what comes naturally to a cat. When we call a man a Tom cat we’re saying that he’s not acting like a man, but like an animal.
We are not animals. We didn’t evolve from the animals. In the beginning, when God made the animals, he said, “Let there be.” When he made Adam and Eve, he said, “Let us make.” He made it very personal. He said, “Let us make man in our own image.” And that’s what he did. He made them male and female and he made them so that they could know him and love him and trust in him. God created us with the capacity to know him as he knows us and to worship him. The worship of God is the fear of God. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom.” So wrote Solomon. God gave Solomon the gift of wisdom. He wrote the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. These books are known as wisdom literature. If you want solid and practical wisdom on day to day living, don’t waste your money buying successful living books. Read the Proverbs that are in your Bible. They teach wisdom.
To fear the LORD is not to be frightened or startled by him, as if you’re minding your own business and he makes a sudden appearance, throwing you off guard. No, to fear the LORD is to revere him, to regard him as holy, to want to please him and avoid offending him. It is to hold onto him as your greatest good. It is to worship him and obey him. It is to trust in him and guard in your heart his words as pure gold.
Wisdom is solid. It doesn’t change. God doesn’t change. Back in the mid-twentieth century, there was a Roman Catholic philosopher and Jesuit priest by the name of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was heavily into evolution and tried to develop an evolutionary view of God, featuring God as constantly becoming. It didn’t work. As theologians go, Teilhard was a flash in the pan. When God is always changing nobody can know him. Moses asked God his name when he appeared to him at the burnish bush. God said I am who I am. He didn’t say I was who I was or I will be who I will be. He said I am who I am. To fear God is to confess that he cannot change.
Wisdom knows that God cannot change. The truth about him cannot change. The truth he speaks cannot change. We just finished reviewing the Ten Commandments in our Wednesday evening catechetical review. They set down the same standards today that applied fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, and a thousand years ago. God’s will for our behavior doesn’t change because God doesn’t change. When you hear people address moral issues by appealing to the times and how we need to get with the times you can be sure of one thing. They do not fear God.
To know God is to know eternal and unchanging truth. Only in this way can we understand ourselves, the world in which we live, life, death, the past, and the future. First we must know him who is from everlasting to everlasting. Solomon writes in a Hebrew poetic form known as parallelism:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
The fear of the LORD and the knowledge of the Holy One go together. Wisdom and understanding go together. To fear God is to know God and to know God is to fear him. And of course, to know God is to know Wisdom.
Wisdom is not just what we know. It is who we know. Wisdom is a person. Here is what Wisdom says in the previous chapter of Proverbs, written by Solomon under inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men. Proverbs 8:22-31
He who in Proverbs is called Wisdom, in St. John’s Gospel is called the Word, as we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:1-4
In the fullness of time, the Word became flesh. Wisdom became flesh. The second person of the Holy Trinity joined the human race. He who from the beginning delighted in the sons of men now became a man. He joined the human race to redeem us all and to bring us back to God. He who from eternity was the very image of God took upon himself the nature of those created in God’s image to restore the lost image. He is the Source of all true wisdom. To know him is to have the knowledge that brings genuine understanding.
There is much wisdom to be gained simply by considering God’s commandments. But we will never understand the eternal wisdom revealed in God’s commandments apart from Christ. Fallen and sinful human nature being what it is we try to use God’s commandments to benefit ourselves instead of our neighbor. We try to justify ourselves. That’s an abuse of God’s law. True wisdom finds true joy in knowing God. To live according to God’s will is a life of joy. The problem is that God’s law can’t give us this joy because when we’ve done the best we can do to obey it we still haven’t obeyed it.
This is why we need Christ. Jesus tells the parable about the supper. Many are invited, but they make all sorts of excuses. They have more important things to do than to go to the supper. They put their jobs, their families, and their business affairs ahead of Christ. They think they need something more than they need Jesus. They won’t say it. They don’t dare. But they think it. And they act it. They don’t read their Bibles. They ignore opportunities God gives them to learn the Scriptures. They don’t teach God’s word to their children. They skip church. When they do attend, they zone out when the preacher isn’t scratching their ears where they itch.
But they need Christ. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Until we are covered by the righteousness of Christ we lie in ignorance of God. All we can do is try to manipulate him or run away and hide from him. This is futile, of course, but what’s a sinner to do?
They say that atheism is on the rise. We know that church-going has been on the decline for some time now. Out of sight, out of mind. Pretend God isn’t there. Pretend you can live without him. But it’s pretense and it’s plain foolishness. We’re not animals and we know it! Wisdom begins with fearing God. But what does this God who is to be feared think of me? Liars, fornicators, thieves, drunks, cheats, blasphemers, religious frauds, haters, judgmental legalists, lovers of money – they are crippled by their sins and, afraid that no decent god would have anything to do with them, cling to their life of death, thinking that is the only life they can live in this world.
Listen, sinner, whatever your sin. Listen to him who invites you! He tells his church to go out and gather in the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. God is merciful to sinners! He never turns away anyone who comes to him for forgiveness. He didn’t come for the self-satisfied who think they are righteous. He came for sinners who know their sin and want to be rescued from it. Jesus Christ, true God and man, is the eternal Wisdom of God. Where is the wisdom of God fully revealed? Here is what the apostle says:
We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:23-25
True wisdom and the beginning of knowledge is where Christ crucified is proclaimed and believed. To know the Holy One is to be sanctified by his blood, forgiven of all our sins for the sake of Jesus who died for us.
A few days ago I got a phone call from a guy who was promoting a so called Christian rock concert to be held in Williston, North Dakota. He said it was a way of reaching out to people with the gospel who would never come to our church. That struck me as rather strange. Christ without his church! That’s what all this contemporary worship that has captured the hearts of so many is all about. It is an attempt to promote Christ apart from his church. But there are no churchless Christians. There is no coming to Jesus except by coming to the supper to which your fellow Christians are invited. You don’t choose your own menu. This is no pot luck. You serve what is set before you and all of it is good for you. All of it is delicious and wholesome. It is the bread of life that gives you eternal life.
Come to the supper. Eat and drink. You can’t find Jesus apart from his church. If you want God as your Father, you must have Christ’s church as your mother. Christ our holy Wisdom binds himself in love to his bride. The fear of the LORD is not inculcated in the privacy of our own thoughts. We are the communion of saints, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.