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Four Verbs, Part One
As we dig deeper into the Proverbs we quickly come across a few arresting verbs: know, perceive, receive, and give. And, of course, we see the corresponding nouns associated with each of these verbs. In Proverbs 1:2-4 we find:
To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity
To give prudence to the simple (and to give) to the young man knowledge and discretion.
Notice, if you will, the natural progression of action. To know, then to perceive something, then to choose to personally receive and embrace what we now know and perceive, and finally to share, to give what we have now received to someone else.
But what does it mean to perceive something or someone, maybe a new truth or a deeper understanding of a known truth? And how does someone then receive that true or understanding to themselves that they have just perceived? What does that process look like? And how does that exchange actually happen? And finally, ultimately, to whom do we give what we have received? And what specifically do we give them?
The answer is found in the nouns connected with our actions, our verbs.
But let’s begin by looking at the four verbs.
Wisdom is a Choice, So Choose Wisely
From the account in 1 Kings we find little to shed light on the specific details of that momentous event. What we do see is Solomon overwhelmed with the responsibility of leading the kingdom he inherited from his father David and recognizing he is but “a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in” (1 Kings 3:7). Then, in a marvelous way, God grants his request and gives him, not only a “wise and understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:12), but also throws in what Solomon didn’t ask for, “both riches and honor” (1 Kings 3:13) simply because He wanted to.
And from then on we see Solomon acting, sometimes, in the wisdom God gave him and, at other times, living like a rich, spoiled brat making “dumb as a brick” decisions for himself, his family, and the nation God trusted him to lead.
But how is that possible? How can a man given the very wisdom of God make dumb, lousy, selfish decisions? Didn’t God make Solomon a wise man when He gave him His wisdom? Didn’t God just zap him, like He did Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, and turn him into something he wasn’t before? Or maybe God simply enhanced the wisdom Solomon already possessed? Maybe Solomon was already a wise man and God just gave him the 2.0 update? Plus, when God gives you or me His wisdom, does that mean everything we do or say is wise and from God? And if not, why? How can we, like Solomon, be given the wisdom of God and then go around making lame, stupid decisions? How is that even possible?
Solomon Was Not a Wise Man
Let’s nip this one in the bud right out of the gate. Solomon was not an inherently wise man. He was not one whose very nature oozed wisdom. How could he be? The decisions and choices he made as a father, husband and king are anything but wise and they reflect his true nature. When Solomon relied on the wisdom of God, he made incredibly wise decisions— some of which we still marvel at today. But when left to himself Solomon, like you and me, made decisions and choices according to his own nature, according to what he was made of on the inside. And for Solomon, his nature was anything but wise.
Just think, how wise was it as a husband to have 300 wives and 700 concubines? How wise was that? Think of the infighting within his own family. Think of how used and rejected his wives felt, not to mention the concubines. And this selfish, unwise decision to marry so many women wasn’t a momentary lapse of reason for Solomon. It wasn’t something he did and regretted later, vowing to never make the same mistake again. This pattern of thinking was habitual, ingrained, and occurred over a 1,000 times.
Then you have the children. Hatred, jealousy, bigotry, and bitterness was the rule of the day, so much so that the kingdom was irreparably torn in two after Solomon’s death by two of his own children. What does this show us about Solomon’s nature and core values regarding his responsibilities of being a father? Where’s the wisdom in any of this?
Jesus is Our Wisdom
We discovered yesterday, from 1 Corinthians 1:30, that Jesus “became for us wisdom from God— and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” This verse clearly shows us Jesus Christ is, in Himself, the wisdom from God. Jesus is all wisdom, complete in Himself, and if we desire more wisdom from the Father (James 1:5), He answers by revealing more of His Son to us. We ask for wisdom, we get Jesus. We look for wisdom, we see it in Jesus. We want to know wisdom (Prov. 1:2), we must know Jesus, and none other.
The wisdom from God is found in only one person— and His name is Jesus.
To Know and Perceive Wisdom and Understanding
But the Proverbs begin by telling us the grand purpose of this book is “to know (yada) wisdom and instruction, (and) to perceive the words of understanding (Prov. 1:2). What does that mean?
Wisdom, as we know, is “the ability to discern or judge what is right, true, and lasting” and instruction means more than teaching or exhortation. Instruction is “discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son that he loves.” Which brings us to the last half of this verse, “to perceive the words of understanding” (Prov. 1:2).
To perceive means “to discern, consider, understand, to be attentive or pay attention to.” And “words of understanding” mean “words or speech of comprehension, discernment, righteous actions, with a strong moral and religious connotation.” In other words, “to perceive the words of understanding” is not something to be mentally perceived or discerned, but to follow through with righteous actions, works, or deeds of strong moral and religious connotations that bring about God’s wisdom and the ability to choose what is right, true and lasting. Do you see what the Lord is saying to us?
The purpose of Proverbs is for us to know (yada) by experience, or by doing, in an intimate, passionate way, the wisdom of God, or Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30), and possess the ability to discern and choose what is right and Godly in any given circumstance. The New Testament would call this sanctification (1 Thess. 4:13), having the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), or “walking in the Spirit, and not according to the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
Its purpose is for us to know wisdom, the wisdom found only in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30), and to be “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10).
How to Become a “Wise Guy”
In Proverbs 1:2 we’ve discovered one of the great goals of the book of Proverbs is to allow us to know, in an intimate and experiential sense, both wisdom and instruction. We’ve already looked at what the word know means in this passage in yesterday’s post. But what about wisdom? And instruction?
Wisdom is defined as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment, or the quality of being wise. It’s the ability to discern or judge what is right, true, and lasting.” Wisdom is not the mere accumulation of facts about someone or something, it’s the ability to properly apply those facts in a given situation to determine the right and God-honoring outcome. Wisdom is manifested when a person can see the circumstances they face and match them with truth they know, God’s Word, and then plot a course of action based on the truth and not on the urgency of the situation.
Instruction, surprisingly, is not primarily defined as teaching or exhortation, as we would expect. Instruction (muwcar) is defined as discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son. So the book of Proverbs is designed to help us know (yada) by doing, to learn by experience, in an intimate, personal way, the ability to discern what is right, true, and lasting versus choosing the cheap trinkets and toys our culture offers. And we are to learn the wisdom of God by discipline, correction and chastening. After all, the Lord disciplines the ones He loves (Heb. 12:6).
How to Get Wisdom
And that’s a question we all ask, isn’t it? How do we get wisdom? There are several verses that speak to this desire. The most well-known is found in James:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).
As we can see, wisdom is given to anyone who asks, just as long as they ask in faith. For if they doubt when they ask, they shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord. Why? Because they are “double-minded” and “unstable” in all their ways.
To “Know” What? – Part 2
The Lord tells us in His preamble of Proverbs that one of the purposes of this great book is for us “to know wisdom and instruction” and “to perceive the words of understanding” (Prov. 1:2). And bam!— there it is again, right before our eyes— another troubling yet vital four-letter word.
But this time the word isn’t love, but know. What does it mean to know something, to know wisdom and instruction for example? What does it mean to be in the know, to have knowledge, or to acknowledge someone or something?
Our contemporary definition of know is “to be aware of something through careful observation, inquiry, or information; to develop a relationship with someone through meeting and spending time with them, to be familiar or friendly.”
“Oh, ask me, I know the answer to that question.”
“You don’t have to remind me, I know I have to pick them up at the airport at 5:00pm.”
“I know who you are, I recognized you from your Facebook profile.”
“I know all about Abraham Lincoln, I read about him in my textbook.”
But there are several different words that are translated know in the Scriptures: in the Greek, primarily edio (1492 in Strong’s) and ginosko (1097 in Strong’s) and in the Hebrew, yada (3045 in Strong’s). Plus, the Hebrew word yada is essentially the same as the Greek word ginosko. So let’s take a few minutes and dig a bit deeper into the difference between knowing something edio or knowing someone ginosko (or yada) and why that is even important.
To Know With Your Head or Your Heart
This is the question that defines these two words and describes the different aspects of what it means to know. Is it merely head knowledge, the accumulation of facts and raw data? Or can I know someone on a more personal level, with more intimacy and passion? Can I know them by my experience with them and not just know facts about them.
In the Greek, edio (1492) is defined as “to see, to perceive with the eyes or the senses, to observe, to get or gain knowledge of something, to understand.” It’s a mental, cognitive retention of some facts. It’s head knowledge, or book learning. It’s preparing for your final exam by memorizing all the answers and then forgetting them immediately after the test is over. It’s knowing, for example, that George Washington was the first President of the United States yet that fact having absolutely no impact on your daily life. “Yeah, I know all about George Washington. I saw his picture and watched the movie. But so what? Who cares?”
To “Know” What? – Part 1
Our culture is fascinated with four-letter words.
And believe it or not, the same can be said of the Scriptures. The Word of God places an incredible amount of significance on some simple, four-letter words.
Let me give you a quick example.
Show Me the Love
There are some four-letter words that will transform your entire life once you understand their meaning. “Love” is one of these words. In our culture you can love your wife, love your children, love your job, love pizza and ice cream, you can love Fluffy your new pet cat, you can love the way you look in a pair of jeans, you can love the meal you’ve just eaten at Cheddars, you can love the Carolina Panthers, you can love Johnny Depp movies, you can even love the deal you got on your new car. And in the English, all we know is that you have a really strong and intense feeling of affection for whatever phrase comes after the word love— even if that phrase ranges from your love for your children to your love of ice cream.
But in the New Testament we find several different Greek words used to describe different kinds of love. For example, you have the word agape which describes the highest form of love, the kind of love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father (John 5:20). It’s the altruistic, self-sacrificing, accepting, benevolent, gracious, all-encompassing and all-giving love that is used in Scripture to communicate the love God has for His creation and for His children.
Next you have phileo which is defined as “brotherly love” or the love between friends. It means to have affection for someone, or to befriend someone. As a side note, God calls us to agape our enemies, to love them like Christ loves us in order to win them to Him. But He never encourages us to phileo our enemies, to befriend them. Why? Because “bad company corrupts good character” every time (1 Cor. 15:33). Remember?
Then you have eros, the intimate, physical, sexual love a man has for his wife. This is the root of our word, erotic. It expresses feelings of arousal shared between people who are physically attracted to each other.
We have three different Greek words used to describe in great detail the meaning of a simple, four-letter word. We enjoy and rejoice in, for example, the agape of God yet we would never agape pizza. We phileo our best friend, our college roommate, but would never use eros to describe that relationship. See the difference? Can you see how important it is to define and understand even our simple, overused, familiar four-letter words?
Let me show you how this plays out in real time.