A WORD TO THE WISE – AUGUST 19, 2018

A WORD TO THE WISE

A sermon on Proverbs 9:1-6

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

August 19, 2018

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

This morning, we—as a minister and congregation—are going to walk a “road less travelled by,” to quote a line from one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems. We are going to spend the sermon time considering a passage from the book of Proverbs.

 

In the time that I have been preaching here at First Baptist, I have discovered that few preachers choose to preach from Proverbs. Some of you all know that I regularly meet with a small group of Baptist pastors each week. In this meeting, we review and discuss the scripture texts for the week and talk about where we feel that the Spirit may be leading us to preach the upcoming Sunday. What I have discovered in my meetings with these other ministers is that the majority of their sermons are taken from either the gospels or the epistles with some occasional forays into the Old Testament. Their sermons are almost never based on Psalms or Proverbs.[1]

 

In fact, this past week I asked my colleagues when the last time was that they had preached a sermon from Proverbs. Some said that they had preached a few Mother’s Day sermons on Proverbs 31 over the years—you know, that’s the chapter that describes “The Wife of Noble Character.” I suppose that is an obvious choice of a text for Mother’s Day. But aside from that, none could say that they could ever remember having preached from Proverbs. Well, we are going to take the plunge this morning. Together we are going to “boldly go where few congregations have gone before…” (!)

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In 1758, Benjamin Franklin published an essay entitled The Way to Wealth. This essay is a collection of some of Franklin’s most popular quotations to be found in his Poor Richard’s Almanac over the previous 25 years. Some of his more famous proverbs included in the essay are:

  • There are no gains without pains. (I always thought the Gold’s Gym or Nike might have made that one up…but apparently not.)
  • God helps them that help themselves. (From what I have understand, this is perhaps the most famous quote that people believe is in the Bible—but actually isn’t!)
  • Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. (One of my mother’s favorites…)
  • The cat in gloves catches no mice. (Hmmmmm…I’m not sure what that one actually means…but it does conjure up an interesting mental image, doesn’t it?)
  • And Franklin writes these words in the opening paragraph—a statement that calls our attention to today’s scripture passage: A word to the wise is enough.[2]

 

Wisdom is the subject of the book of Proverbs. And in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman. Lady Wisdom is seen in Proverbs as calling out to all people, inviting everyone to learn from her in order to live their “best life now.” This is defined as a life that is lived in accordance with the ways of God. It is her teachings which lead to life and happiness. And she says that to ignore what she has to say is to risk trouble…and even death.

 

Proverbs 9 starts out by telling us that Lady Wisdom has built a house and it stands on seven pillars. Hmmm…”seven pillars.” What does that mean? Well, one thing that I have discovered is that, if you get three Bible interpreters discussing what this verse means, then you are likely to get four opinions. This is my take on it—

 

The number seven crops up repeatedly in the Bible—both in the Old and New Testaments. And when it does, it usually represents wholeness or completion. There are WAY too many examples for us to fully explore how the number seven is used in the scriptures, but here are just a few to illustrate the point…

 

  • The story of creation in Genesis 1 tells us that God created the heavens and the earth in seven days—six days of activity followed by the day that God rested.
  • In Exodus 22:30, the people of Israel are told that their animal sacrifices must be at least seven days old before they can be offered.
  • In 2 Kings 5:16, the prophet Elisha tells the general Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times. And when Naaman did that, then he would be completely healed of his leprosy.
  • In Joshua 6, we are told that the people of Israel marched around the city of Jericho seven times before the trumpets sounded and, in the words of the old spiritual, “The walls came a-tumblin’ down.”
  • And in the New Testament, Simon Peter asks Jesus if he should forgive his brother seven times. Peter thought that he was being completely generous. And as you remember, Jesus was unimpressed.

 

The pillars are what the foundation of the house rests upon. So I think that what the writer of Proverbs was trying to communicate is that wisdom is complete. Wisdom never changes as it sits on a firm foundation based in God. Some things regularly come and go in our world and in our society, don’t they? Fads and trends change with the times. Each generation makes its own way with its own values. But true wisdom is always the same. Wisdom is built on the bedrock of truth that does not change. There is such a thing as the wisdom of the ages—things that were true long ago that are still true in today’s world. Virtues such as love, compassion, trustworthiness, generosity, faithfulness, beauty—these are some of the qualities that make up a life worth living. True wisdom is timeless—whether we are talking about living in the 21st Century or living three thousand years ago…

 

In verse two, Lady Wisdom is said to be setting out a feast for those who inquire at her house. It says that she has “slaughtered her animals.” Sounds kind of gruesome at first glance, doesn’t it? Most people in the ancient world did not eat a lot of meat except on special occasions. That is because they could not afford it. For the most part, common people lived on bread, grains, vegetables, fish, some poultry, milk and cheese. Only the well-to-do and wealthy could afford to eat meat on a regular—let alone daily—basis.

 

Also verse two says that “she has mixed her wine.” What does that mean? Again, scholars are divided on what the meaning is. Some have suggested that wine was regularly cut with water in order to make the wine go further. It also allowed the alcohol in the wine to kill whatever impurities that the water may have had. Therefore she has already missed her wine in order to make it ready. Okay…Maybe…

 

But I think there is something else going on here. It was not unknown in the ancient world for wine to be mixed with sugar or honey and also to be mixed with spices in order to sweeten it and to enhance its flavor. A popular spice used in mixing wine in the ancient Near East was cinnamon. And sometimes additional herbs were added to wine in order to increase its medicinal properties.

 

It seems to me that, by serving meat at her table and mixing wines to increase their flavor, Lady Wisdom is summoning her guests to an extravagant banquet that will satisfy their hunger and thirst for wisdom. If you are looking to find help and advice on how to best live your life, then seeking wisdom is the place to start. Wisdom is the guide by which you can live the kind of life that we all crave deep down inside—a life full of meaning, a life full of love, a life full of purpose. Our Lord Jesus calls it “the abundant life.” He says in John 10:10, “I come that [you] might have life and have it more abundantly.” It is abundant not only in length of years, but also in a quality of life that is unsurpassed.

 

Verse four of Proverbs 9 says, “You that are simple, turn in here!” The Hebrew word translated here as “simple” is the word peth-ē. It is a word that can also be translated as “naïve.”

 

In Matthew 10, Jesus gathers his twelve disciples together in preparation for sending them out to minister in the neighboring towns. He gives them a long list of directions of how to conduct themselves—of what to do and of what not to do. In the middle of these instructions, Jesus makes a truly remarkable statement that sounds uncharacteristic of what popular notions of Jesus are. He tells his disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Verse 16)

 

Jesus is telling his disciples not to be naïve in their dealings with others. That is especially with those who are outside of the household of faith. Jesus knows all about the world that we inhabit. He is quite aware of the dangers that we face. He knows that there are people will often prey on his followers, thinking that they are easy marks and can be easily deceived. Our Lord knows that not everyone is going to play by the same rules that Christian believers play by. Not everyone is going to hold to the same values as we do. Not everyone is going to be upfront and honest like Jesus’ followers are supposed to be. Followers of Jesus are to be open and honest and giving and caring—but they are not supposed to be naïve. They are not to let themselves be taken advantage of under false pretenses…

 

And yet, while they are not to let themselves be taken advantage of, they are not to protect themselves in a way that retaliates when given the opportunity. Yes, they are to be wise as serpents—but they are also to be harmless (or “innocent”) as doves. Jesus’ disciples are not to protect themselves out of spite—they are to conduct themselves transparently and are to be above reproach with love being the guiding principle. This is the way of Jesus. This is the path of true wisdom…

 

Verse five contains imagery of the feast that Lady Wisdom has prepared—“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine that I have mixed.” The writer of this proverb most likely did not have Jesus in mind when he wrote these words. But for those of us who know the goodness of God in Christ, it certainly sounds like he is talking about the Lord’s Supper.

 

It reads like an invitation to share in the life and ministry of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is, of course, central to our understanding of who Jesus is. In the gospel text from John 6 which was read earlier in this service, the Lord Jesus declares to his listeners, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” And then, referring to himself, Jesus said, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” In 1 Corinthians 1:24, the Apostle Paul writes that Christ “is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” True wisdom is ultimately to be found in his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

The final verse of Proverbs 9 gives us these words from the moth of Lady Wisdom, “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of uprightness.”

 

In Matthew 19, the story is told that parents brought little children to Jesus in order that he would lay his hands on them and bless them. And as you recall, the disciples were not pleased and tried to shoo the parents and their children from Jesus. Jesus scolded the disciples and said some words to them that are some of his best known: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” In another place Jesus tells his disciples, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

These pictures of Jesus welcoming and commending children as examples of the Kingdom of God are parts of the Jesus Story that most everyone loves. It is a warm and fuzzy episode, to be sure. Cute, cuddly, innocent children—Jesus says that if you are going to come to him, then you must exhibit the kind of trust and guilelessness that young children possess.

 

Fair enough. Jesus wants us to come to him as little children. But here’s the thing that a lot of people—even many Christians –seem to miss. While Jesus wants us to come to him as children, he does not want his followers to remain children. NO—it is God’s desire that we grow out of childish ways of the Spirit into a more fully mature spiritual life. In the same way that you would not wish your children to always remain infants and toddlers, God does not want his children to remain spiritual infants either. He desires for us to grow and develop and mature into more of the person that his Son Jesus is.

 

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” And in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul goes on to say, “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” In some ways, that is really not much different than obeying our Lord’s words to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves…”

 

And that is what Lady Wisdom says. She says, “Lay aside immaturity”—that is, grow up. Do not stay the same way you were when you met Jesus. Grow…develop…mature in the wisdom of God and in understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. God wants us to make progress in the life of the Spirit…to be more grounded and rooted in his wisdom…showing evidence that we truly belong to him by following Jesus.

 

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “A word to the wise is enough.” In today’s epistle passage Ephesians 5, Paul writes, “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” Friends, let us heed the words of Lady Wisdom as she encourages us to “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight”…walk in the way of understanding…walk in the way of truth…walk in the way of wisdom…

 

To God alone be the glory! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] My guess is that the gospels and the epistles are easier for most preachers because the stories and the teachings are relatively straightforward. Psalms and Proverbs are filled with poetry, images and figurative language that many preachers find daunting. It’s a “left brain/right brain” distinction. But I personally find them to be rich resources that reward careful consideration…

[2] www.swathmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/52-fra.html (Accessed August 14, 2018)

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