376:  Stupid is as Stupid Does

376: Stupid is as Stupid Does

When we look at the warnings from the Lord found in the first chapter of Proverbs, we are naturally drawn to the almost prophetic words of Forrest Gump.

“Stupid is as stupid does.”

To put it in the words of Solomon:

“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?” – Proverbs 1:22.

Or, “How long, you simple (foolish, simpleminded, stupid, naive, moronic) ones, will you love simplicity (what is foolish, simpleminded, stupid, naive, moronic)?”

Great question.  But what is the object of this question?  What exactly are the stupid ones loving stupidly?  What can we learn about the wisdom of God from what is being said here?  If you want to know more, then keep listening.

The following is a study on Proverbs 1:20-33.

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347:  Living in the Midst of Fear

347: Living in the Midst of Fear

In Psalm 56, during a very dark time in David’s life, he wrote the following:

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; (therefore) I will not fear.  What can flesh (or, man) do to me?

James Montgomery Boice said:  “Man can oppress, slander, hurt, hate, maim, and murder me, for starters.  But, of course, that is not the answer David is giving us in Psalm 56.  His answer is: Nothing!”

And he’s right.  What can man do to me?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing?  Why?  Because “God is for me” (Psalm 56:9).  Do you want to know how to live in the midst of fear?  Do you want to know how to not let your view of God limit you because He is too small.  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on Psalm 56.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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The Lost Art of Listening

The Lost Art of Listening

My son, hear the instruction of your father,
and do not forsake the law of your mother.
Proverbs 1:8

We live in a world that was birthed in the bed of rebellion.  From Eve’s rebellion in the Garden to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, we see the sin of rebellion, the open, hostile, rejection of authority, as one of the bedrocks of human existence.

But it’s beginning is far older than the book of Genesis.  For it was rebellion that caused the Lord to banish Satan and his followers from heaven and cast them down to the earth (Isaiah 14:13-15).  That’s why Satan is known as the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).  In fact, Satan even boasted of this when he tried to tempt Jesus by offering to give Him “all the kingdoms of the world” if He would just “worship before me” (Luke 4:5-6).

And what is at the root of all rebellion?  Pride.

It was pride that brought low mighty King Nebuchadnezzar and drove him out into the fields, living on all fours and eating grass, humbled like an animal (Dan. 4:33).  It was pride that led Pharaoh to vainly fight against the Lord and not only see the destruction of all Egypt, but of his own house and family as well. It was pride that almost kept Naaman from being healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5;11) and pride that saw Haman hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai (Esther 7:10).  And it was the sin of pride that led Peter to foolishly exalt his commitment to Jesus as greater than the other disciples when he said, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29).

But the Lord says He hates “pride and arrogance and the evil way” (Prov. 8:13) and that the prideful are so enamored with themselves they do not “seek God” nor is God “in any of their thoughts” (Psalm 10:4).  They are clueless, self-deceived, and so inward-focused they can see nothing but themselves.  They have themselves become the center of their self-created universe, the most valued and important thing in their lives, and their personal happiness and pleasure is the all-consuming passion of their short, sad lives.  But the Lord promises to humble the man who exalts himself (Matt. 23:12) and to bring to nothing the one who arrogantly smirks at both God and others (Isaiah 2:11).

The future of the proud and rebellious is indeed bleak.


Rebellion and Our DNA

But we are a people that see pride and rebellion as one of the core values of our society.  We spend countless hours watching movies and sitcoms that are saturated with the theme of pride.  Our popular music exalts self to the point that we have elevated self-indulgence and narcissism to an art form.  Even in our churches we find the worship leader, our own version of a personal Christian rock star, gets more face time and notoriety than the Lord Jesus.

But it gets worse.

We, as a people, rebel against anything and everything.  Why?  Because rebellion is cool and popular and pride, the source of our rebellion, is deemed a virtue in our culture.  Just think, we rebel against our government and refuse to be “subject to the governing authorities” as commanded in Scripture (Rom. 13:1-4).  In fact, our nation was founded on rebellion and we wear that rebellion as a badge of honor and celebrate it each July 4th as a national holiday.  We rebel against our employers, miserly giving as little as possible yet demanding they pay us all the more, always grumbling and never content with our wages.  And we do this in direct contradiction to the Word of God (Col. 3:22-25).  We even rebel against the authorities placed over us for our own good: our teachers, law enforcement personnel, older siblings, and even pastors and ministers.

And, most importantly, we rebel against our parents, or any person who loves us yet dares to place upon us expectations or standards we disagree with or that stifles our drive for independence.  And this rebellion begins almost as soon as we learn to walk.

It seems like everywhere in our culture parents are portrayed as “out of touch old fogies” or “old fashioned geezers” or “ignorant killjoys” that won’t let their children do anything they want to do.  And the children are often seen as the ones who have it all together, the ones who alone can think rationally and have their emotions in check, and the ones who can see the big picture and not get sidetracked on issues that don’t really matter— like respect, obedience, diligence, commitment, honesty and hard work.

After all, the last thing our children want to do today is ask their parents for advice or follow their instructions.  But that’s the exact admonition the Lord gives us in the Proverbs.


Learning How to Listen and Obey

Consider the words from a loving father to his naive, impressionable son:

Proverbs 1:8 – My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.

In this Proverb we find the father, as head of his home and family, imploring his young son to listen and hear the law and wisdom of his parents in order to protect him from the evil and hurts in this world that want to ruin the young man’s life.  And how do we know this? Because all fathers want to keep their children from stepping on the same land mines they did.  All fathers want to protect their children from suffering the same hurts or making the same mistakes they did when they were young and simple-minded and thought they knew everything.  All fathers want their sons to learn from their own mistakes and not have to repeat them over and over again.

Remember?

So here we have the father speaking to his son, to “My son”— and pleading with him to “hear the instruction of your father” and not to “forsake the law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8).  This plea is not generic, but a deeply personal and passionate plea coming from the lips of a loving father to his naive, gullible young son.  So much so the phrase “My son” is used almost twenty times in the Proverbs alone. 1

And what’s at the core of the plea?  To “hear” or “listen” to someone wiser than yourself.

The word translated “hear” is shama and means more than just letting sounds bounce off your ear drums to cause a recognizable vibration.  It means to “listen” or “hearken” and to “obey” what has been heard. It’s a two-fold definition.  It means to both listen and obey.  Not one or the other.  But both.

But to “listen and obey” what?  The “instruction (or, discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son that he loves) of your father.”  The command is to “listen and obey” what the father has to say.  The word for instruction is the same word we find in Proverbs 1:2, 3, 7.  It’s the same instruction that “fools despise” in Proverbs 1:7.  It’s the same instruction God promised the book of Proverbs to reveal (Prov. 1:2).  And it’s the same instruction given us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

But note this, listening without obedience is still disobedience.  For the son to listen to the instruction of the father and not obey that instruction is the same as not listening at all. It’s nothing more than pride and rebellion and a forsaking of the “law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8).


To Forsake is to Abandon

The word “forsake” means to “leave alone, ignore, or abandon.”  And the word for “law” is torah and is a general term for “instruction and direction” either from God or man.  So the command is to listen and obey the instruction and discipline of your father and not to ignore or forsake the directions of your mother.  Both parents are in play here.  Both are important.  Both are involved in shaping the character of the young man.

And the son’s only job in all of this is to not play the fool but “listen and obey” the words of the two people who’ve loved him more than anyone else on the face of the earth.  He’s to embrace and not forsake the directions given him by his parents, the very ones who have sacrificed their lives to give him life and a future.  And part of their instruction is to impart the wisdom they have accumulated over the years making many of the same mistakes they are hoping to keep their son from repeating.

It’s classic Parenting 101.


The Lost Art of Listening

But one of the great tragedies facing the young son is that there is so much noise surrounding him that it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for him to hear the needed words of wisdom.  And it’s the same for us today.  Everywhere we go we’re surrounded by noise.  The radio is constantly playing in the car even when we’re not conscious of it. It’s a natural force of habit when we drive.  We have the sound of the television playing in the background even when we’re not watching it or know what’s on.  It’s just there.  Always.  Just a constant hum of music and dialogue.  And when we walk, run, sit, or wait in line, we instinctively cram in our earbuds to drown out the sounds of reality for the noise of our own choosing— as if the latest song is more important than people and the activities of life all around us.

Listening and hearing is rapidly becoming a lost art and the consequences for the Church and the Believer are horrific.  Consider the importance of being able to hear and listen and ultimately obey the Word of God:

Proverbs 2:1-2, 5 – My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom (to listen and hear), and apply your heart to understanding (to obey)… then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

John 10:27-28 – “My sheep hear My voice (to listen), and I know them, and they follow Me (to obey).  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

What does this say about those who don’t hear His voice?  What about those whose lives are so filled with the noise and chaos of this life the very voice of Jesus is drowned out?  What about them?

And then over and over again we find this admonition from the Lord Jesus, in both the Gospels and the Revelation:

“He who has an ear to hear, let him hear!” 2

Remember finally, the Lord is not One who is loud, brash, boisterous or pushy and demands to be heard.  He’s actually quite the opposite.  After the Mount Carmel experience, He revealed Himself to Elijah at the mouth of cave, not in the “great and strong wind” that “tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces” (1 Kings 19:11).  Nor was He found in the mighty “earthquake” or even in the consuming “fire” that passed in front of Elijah— but in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that refused to compete with any of these things.  A voice so small and so still that you could easily miss it if you weren’t listening closely.  A voice that still speaks today if we would only take the time to shut out the noise of the temporal and listen intently to the voice of the eternal.

And when we hear Him, when we hear Him unmistakably break through the noise and clatter of our lives and speak to us today, our only response is to obey.  To listen and obey.  Just like the wise and loving father implored his young son to do.

Proverbs 1:8 – My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.

After all, nothing else really matters, does it?

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Getting Serious

1.   Has God ever spoken to you?  And, if so, what was that like?  How did that happen?  What did God tell you when He spoke into your life?  And what have you done in response to that event?

2.   Has God ever convicted you of something in your life that you’ve refused to change or correct or surrender to Him?  If so, what was that?  How did He communicate His will to you and why have you refused to obey Him?

3.   Are there areas in your life that reek of rebellion?  Are there areas that you have defiantly refused to give over to Him?  If so, why?  What are you waiting for?  And if not, is it because you view your disobedience in much softer, generic, PC terms than rebellion?  But does your terminology slight-of-hand make your rebellion less of a sin?

4.   Do you obey your parents in all things?  How about your husband?  Your employer?  The government?  How do you view the authority of the church, your pastor, elders and ministers?  Is the Lord trying to speak to you in any of these areas?

5.   On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process?  What was it yesterday?  Are you growing in the wisdom of God?  And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and look up the following phrase “He who has an ear, let Him hear” in the Gospel accounts.  Read them in context to determine what Jesus was speaking about when He made that all-important, yet somewhat cryptic statement.

What does “He who has an ear, let him hear” really mean?  Was Jesus speaking to everyone?  And, if not, who was He speaking to?  And what was He saying to them?  What was He trying to emphasize?  Can you see a pattern in any of this?  And, if so, what is that pattern?

And what does it mean for you today?  Do you have “ears to hear”?  Are you listening?  And if so, what is He saying and what are you prepared to do about it?

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Notes:

1. Proverbs 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1, 11, 4:10, 20, 5:1, 5:20; 6:1, 9, 20; 7:1; 19:27; 23:15, 19, 26; 24:13, 21; 27:11; 31:2.

2. Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; 7:16; Luke 7:8, 14:35; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.

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The Life of a Fool

The Life of a Fool

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7

In the Proverbs we are presented with the contrast between two types of individuals: the wise man and the fool.  We’ve already seen how the “wise man will hear and increase learning” and how a “man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5).  And now we’re introduced to the man who lives at the other end of the spectrum— the fool.

But what is a fool?  And what is it about a fool that compels him to “despise wisdom and instruction?” (Prov. 1:7).


The Fool Defined

When we use the term fool today we think of someone who acts unwisely or imprudently, maybe a silly person who tries to dupe, trick or prank us.  We often equate the term with being stupid, simple or naive.  But the word, as used in the Proverbs, has a much sinister meaning.

In Proverbs 1:7 the Hebrew word for fool is eviyl and means “foolish in the sense of one who hates wisdom and walks in folly by despising wisdom and morality.”  It describes one who “mocks when found guilty, one who is continually quarrelsome and one who is licentious in his behavior.”

After all, the Proverbs say that “fools hate knowledge” (Prov. 1:22) and “fools die for lack of wisdom” (Prov. 10:21).  The heart of a fool, the very center of their being “proclaims foolishness” (Prov. 12:23) and it’s against their very nature, in fact, “it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil” and do what is right (Prov. 13:19).  Fools “mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9), and their mouth not only “feeds on foolishness” but “pours forth foolishness” like a flood (Prov. 15:2, 14).

Therefore, one who lives and thinks this way would naturally despise any “wisdom and instruction” that points out the errors in their actions or lifestyle.  Why?  Because “the foolishness of a man twists (or, perverts) his way, and his heart frets (or, is enraged) against the Lord” (Prov. 19:3) and the “way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 12:15).  Plus, you can “grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (Prov. 27:22).  Their foolishness is embedded in their nature, it’s part of their DNA, it’s in the marrow of their bones.

But there’s more to a fool than just a rejection of the truth found in the Scriptures.  The verse also states that fools “despise” both the “wisdom and instruction” of God.  And despise is a strong word.  It means to “hold in contempt, to deem insignificant, to show scorn or disrespect for someone or something.”  So putting this all together, Proverbs 1:7 reads like this:

The fear (or, awe, profound reverence, terror and dread) of the LORD is the beginning (or, starting point, inception, genesis) of knowledge (or, discernment and insight into the things of God), but (the contrast) fools (or, those who mock when they are found guilty in their sin, those who are licentious or who are promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters and live immoral lives) despise (or, scorn, disrespect, ridicule and view as insignificant and worthless) wisdom (or, the ability to discern and judge what is right, true, and lasting) and instruction (or, discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son that he loves).

In fact, this truth is so important that Proverbs 23:9 restates it as such: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, (why) for he will despise the wisdom of your words.”


The Fool More Clearly Defined

But the Scriptures, especially the Proverbs, have much more to say about the fool.  In fact, the Lord gives us almost an entire chapter to show us, in graphic detail, the life and future of a fool.  Look what He says in Proverbs 26:1-12 and note the contrast between the wise and the fool:

As snow in summer and rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight.
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the fool’s back.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, (why) lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
Like the legs of the lame that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honor to a fool.
Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
The great God who formed everything gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages.
As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.

And there’s so much more.


The Fool’s Pay-Off

Which brings us to the pressing question, Why?  Why would anyone willingly choose the life of what the Scripture calls a fool?  Why would anyone foolishly run down the path that leads to only hardship, suffering, and destruction?  What’s the upside, the advantage, the benefit, the payoff for choosing to live and think as a fool?  And since most of our culture has embraced foolishness, what makes the life of a fool so obviously appealing?

And this is where the problem lies.  It’s a problem of perspective and belief.

You see, our culture calls a “self-made man” a hero.  We applaud the antics of someone who calls his own shots, who’s a leader among leaders, who refuses to take “no” as an answer and cannot be deterred in his passionate quest for what he truly wants.  We want to emulate the person who bows down to no one, who can “give better than he gets” and who is committed and single-focused on his own agenda and way of seeing things.

These are the attributes that create the celebrated icons of our society.  These are the character traits that lead to success in this world.  And if you desire to live like your heroes, then these are the types of people you must become.

Yet these are also the traits and convictions that make someone a fool in the eyes of Scripture.  Just think about it.  Our fallen, prideful culture says that the most important thing in this world is “me”.  It’s my wants, my rights, my desires, my opinions, my future, my calling, my future, my happiness, my importance… or simply “me.”  And so the mantra goes: “If I can’t love myself then I can’t love others. I have to love me first.” Or, as Shakespeare put it, “To thine own self be true.”  But to think like that and especially to live like that makes you a fool in the eyes of the Lord.


The Heart of the Cross is Sacrifice

Why?  Because the heart of the Christian life, the essence of the Christian message, is about love displayed in sacrifice and service to others.  After all, didn’t Jesus say “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13)?

Then, if all this is true, why is the world almost irresistibly drawn to the lifestyle deemed as foolish by the Lord?  Why can they not see the error of their ways, the inevitable damning consequences of their selfish choices?  Why is the world so blind to the truth and why do they not only reject, but literally detest, the “wisdom and instruction” of the Lord?

The answer is found in the cross of Christ.

The greatest act of self-sacrifice known to humanity was displayed by Christ on the cross where He willingly died for the sins of others.  But this act of sacrifice and love, the agony of the ages, is considered to the lost, the unregenerate, the world, to those the Scripture calls fools, as foolishness to them.  In other words, the world calls the cross of Christ “foolishness” and therefore becomes a “fool” by despising the “instruction and wisdom” of the Lord. This is a tragic case of verbal gymnastics at its very best.

1 Corinthians 1:18 – For the message (or, preaching, power, wisdom and instruction) of the cross is foolishness (or, moronic, absurdity, folly) to (who) those who are perishing (the lost, the unredeemed, the world), but to us (the elect, the redeemed, the children of God) who are being saved it is the power of God.

But there’s more. Read on.

1 Corinthians 1:19-31 – For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”  Where is the wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the disputer of this age?  Has not God made (what) foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the (what) foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but 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.  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen (His action) the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen (His action) the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen (His action), and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, (why) that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are (what) in Christ Jesus, who became for us (1) wisdom from God—and (2) righteousness and (3) sanctification and (4) redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”


It’s More than Mere Semantics

But this is much more than mere semantics.  These words have eternal consequences.  If you live in the world and believe this is your Best Life Now!, you will see the wisdom of God and the sacrifice of Christ as foolish or moronic.  But if you live in the Kingdom of God, you will understand that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom but fools”, those who reject the gospel and all it entails, by their very nature, “despise knowledge and instruction” of the Lord (Prov. 1:7)

So which are you?  A fool in the eyes of the world for believing in the cross of Christ or a fool in the eyes of Scripture who rejects the very truths of God?  The choice is yours.  And the consequences of your choice are eternal.

So choose wisely.

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Getting Serious

1. Do you remember the time when you played the fool for the world and all it promised you?  What was that like?  Did the world deliver on its promises?  Or were you left disappointed and empty-handed?

2. What was it like for you when you began to understand the cross of Christ for what it truly is?  How did you pass from viewing it as mere foolishness to understanding and embracing it as the power and wisdom of God? (1 Cor. 1:18).  Can you describe that experience?  Have you had that experience?

3. Can you list a few examples from your own life when you despised the “knowledge and instruction” of the Lord? (Prov. 1:7).  Are their things in His Word that you disagree with or refuse to accept and obey? And, if so, what are they?  Do you see these instances as areas where you are despising God’s knowledge and instruction?  And if so, does that make you a fool?

4. What changes are you committed to make to align your life with the eternal, infallible wisdom of God?  Have you identified areas that need addressing?  And are you fervent enough in your faith to address those areas in your life, no matter the costs?  And if not, does that also make you a fool?

5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process?  What was it yesterday?  Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and look up the following verses in the Proverbs that deal with the contrast between the wise and the fool.  Do a word study and define some of the terms used to make sure you have a complete understanding of what the Lord is saying in these passages.  Then ask yourself a few questions.

Proverbs 14:33 – Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, but what is in the heart of fools is made known.

Proverbs 17:16 – Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom, since he has no heart for it?

Proverbs 18:2 – A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.

What do these verses mean to you?  Can you see yourself in any of these warnings and contrasts?  And if so, in what way?  What does it mean when it says, “he has no heart for it” (Prov. 17:16).  Do you have a heart for God’s wisdom?

And what does it mean to be a fool today?  Do you know anyone the Scripture would deem a fool?  Do you have any of those traits in your own life?  And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?

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The Beginning of the Beginning

The Beginning of the Beginning

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7

Everything has a beginning, a first start, a genesis. Everything begins somewhere.  And according to the Proverbs, there’s a beginning to knowledge, wisdom and instruction— and that glorious beginning is called “the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7).

But what does it mean to “fear the Lord”?  What does that look like in real life?  If “God is love” as the Scriptures say (1 John 4:8), how are we to fear His love?  Or His mercy?  Or His grace?  Or any other aspect of His character?  How can the fear of the Lord be the beginning of anything but a dysfunctional relationship with Someone whom we’re frightened of and cower in His presence?  Fear is not a pleasant emotion that draws us closer to the one we fear.  So why would the Lord tell us that the fear of Him is the very starting point of knowledge and wisdom?  It would seem to me that love would be the beginning of our relationship with the Lord— not fear.


What Does Fear Really Mean?

And that’s the main question, isn’t it?  What do we mean by “fear”?

Our English definition of fear reads like this: “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or is a threat.”  Fear is also described as the “anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur.”  You know, the fear of financial ruin, the fear of heights, the fear for one’s safety, or the fear of speaking in public.  There are countless ways to describe fear as an unpleasant emotion caused by the possibility of something bad happening to us.

But in the Scriptures, fear has an additional connotation.  To “fear the Lord” means to “honor, respect, and be in awe” of Him in addition to the idea of God Himself being “an awesome, terrifying and fearful thing.”  In other words, the “fear of the Lord” means to show profound respect while recognizing that the object of our fear is “awesome and terrifying and fearful” and can bless or crush us at any time, for any reason, at His own whim, without recourse.  He is, after all, the Creator, the Highest Authority, the Sovereign One, and we are mere mortals, just dust and ashes.

Having a healthy “fear of the Lord” should motivate us to please Him in all we do.  Why?  Because we will someday have to give an account to Him for what we’ve done, good or bad or indifferent, while living our lives on this earth (2 Cor. 5:10).  He will be our Judge, the final Arbiter of our fate, and He will judge us according to His infallible standard of righteousness and holiness and not by our lukewarm platitudes designed to excuse our apathy.

And this, my friend, should give us great pause.


The First Door Opened

If you remember, the final promise made to us in the preamble to the Proverbs reads:

A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, (why) to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles (or, dark, hidden sayings)” (Prov. 1:5-6).

And what’s the first enigma, the first strange, dark saying we are to understand?  What door has the promise of wisdom opened to us first?  Simply this, it’s the importance of the “fear of the Lord”— or more literally, “the fear of Jehovah” (Prov. 1:7).  But why?  Because this “fear of the Lord” is the foundation upon which our future relationship with God is formed.

Remember, the word fear is like a two-edged sword.  On one side of the blade is engraved the words “Respect, Honor, Awe, and Reverence” while the other side reads “Fright, Terror, Dread, and Great Fear.”  They’re both part of the same sword, and they’re both key attributes of the character of God.  And they’re not contradictory in nature nor mutually exclusive.  God is both merciful and just.  He is ever forgiving yet ultimately holds us accountable for our sins.  And He is loving, gracious and good and incredibly fearful and terrifying at the same time.

So the first enigma we’re to understand is the seemingly illogical one that states the fear, both defined as profound reverence and terrifying dread, of the Lord is the beginning, the inception, the starting place of knowledge, discernment and insight into the things of God.

And that’s a good thing.

You see, we have this nagging tendency to view the God revealed in the Old Testament and Jesus as two totally different beings.  The Old Testament God seems fearful, terrifying, capricious and often unapproachable.  We see Him coming with fire, thunder and lightning on Mt. Sinai to the point the Jews quaked in fear like the cowardly lion did when meeting the Wizard of Oz.  The Old Testament God is seen as the God of curses, judgment, plagues, and wrath while the New Testament God, Jesus, is viewed as loving, patient, forgiving, and full of mercy and grace.  Jesus understands us and He’s like us in many ways, or so we’d like to think.  He’s approachable and not judgmental, like a close friend or a best buddy.  We can do anything we want and He will just smile and wink and turn a blind eye because He loves us and only wants to make us happy.

The Old Testament God?  Not so much.


See One, See All

But they’re actually one and the same. “He who has seen Me,” Jesus said, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Or, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).  So for us to create our view of Jesus as some cosmic sidekick or good buddy and ignore the very fact that He is God, Sovereign over all, the Creator (John 1:3) and Sustainer (Heb. 1:3) of everything, is to open a door that will lead us away from wisdom and into the murky waters of self-deception.  Why?  Because we tend to love the Jesus we’ve created in our own image and fear the God of the Old Testament who we don’t fully understand, nor really want to.  Why? Because we don’t like fear.  Not one bit.

Fear causes us to have to watch what we say, to guard our hearts, and to constantly be aware of the sin in our lives.  Fear makes us feel uncomfortable, troubled, because of the object of our fear.  We fear the Law Enforcement Officer when we see his blue lights in our rear view mirror because of what pain we know he could cause us by writing a speeding ticket.  We fear our boss when we stand outside his office door, nervously knocking, knowing he wants to see us immediately and we haven’t a clue as to why.  We fear the IRS when we open their letter that questions some fuzzy deduction on our tax return we didn’t really feel so good about when we filed it last April.  And why?  Because these objects of our fear have some element of power over our lives, some control, that can bring us some pain.  And there’s not much we can do about it but complain.

And because we fear what the officer or our boss or the IRS can do to us for our non-compliance to what is required, we give them great respect and honor their authority.  Why?  Because we don’t want to make things worse for ourselves, we don’t want to make them mad.  We fear their authority and the power they have over our lives.  So we put on our Sunday smile and treat them as nice as humanly possible, careful to never defend ourselves or demean them for doing their job.

“Oh, excuse me officer.  I’m so sorry I was speeding.  Thank you for the ticket.  Have a great day.”
“Sir, is there something you wanted to see me about?  Is there something I can do to help you?”

And we answer all their questions and suffer through all their demands with a polite, “Sir” and “Yes, Sir” regardless of how we feel.  Why?  Because they have the power, for that moment at least, to cause us happiness or pain, to make us rejoice or suffer.  And it’s their power, by virtue of their position and authority that we respect and fear, even if we don’t respect the individual person holding that position.


Fear is the Beginning

If that is true of a simple highway cop and a $60 speeding ticket, how much more so if the object of our fear is the Lord Himself?  There’s no “Jesus we like because He cuts us slack for our sin” and “God we don’t like because He’s such a stickler for right and wrong.”  Or, “Jesus we love because He loves us but God we don’t like to hang around Him much because He’s always reminding us of how poor we are doing in this life of holiness.”  There’s not a choice.  You can’t be on one team and not on the other.  Jesus and the Father, the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, are one and the same.  Identical.  Of the same essence.  And we are to love, not just the Son but the Father also, and we are to fear both Father and Son.  It’s a two way street.  Love and fear flow both ways.

Jesus is not only forgiving, but also commands us unquestionably, just like the Father.  His words to the woman caught in the act of adultery were first forgiving: “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.”  And then commanding: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11).  Again, love and fear flow both ways.

One final thought.  For those who still see Jesus as always loving and God as always judgmental, consider this from the Revelation:

And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:15-17).

Did you catch that?  They were begging the rocks and mountains to fall on them in a vain attempt to hid from the “wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:17).  That’s Jesus, by the way.  The wrath of Jesus.


Fear Only One

Which brings us back to the Proverbs.

The fear of the Lord, and not of anything else, is the beginning, the source, the starting place of all knowledge, wisdom, insight and discernment.  It’s our profound respect and honor, based on Who He is as our Sovereign Creator and Lord, that opens the doors of deeper understanding into the things of God.  And it’s our fear and terrifying dread of His authority and judgment that prompts us to live a life worthy of being called His children and joint heirs with His Son (Rom. 8:16-17).

Believe me, fear is a healthy emotion to have towards the Lord.  Why?  Just look how Jesus addressed the subject of fear in the life of a Believer.

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5).

And who do you think Jesus was talking about?  Who has the power to cast one into hell?  Satan?  Nope.  It’s only God Himself.  And it’s a fear of Him alone that opens the door to the deeper truths of the things of God.

Remember, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).

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Getting Serious

1.  Have you ever thought of Jesus as Someone you could trust, Someone you wanted near you but not God the Father?
2.  When you pray, do you pray to the Father or to the Son?  Or do you pray to the Holy Spirit?  Or do you simply use the generic phrase, Lord?  And why do you think you choose to pray to the One that you do?
3.  Does the thought of having fear for the Lord make you feel uncomfortable?  Does is seem unnatural, maybe out-of-character?  If so, why do you think you feel that way?
4.  When you read the statement, “the fear of the Lord” is your first thought of profound respect and honor or do you think more of dread and terror?  Does the phrase “fear of the Lord” have a positive meaning to you or a negative one?  And why is that?  What about your perception of God leads you to that conclusion, either positive or negative?
5.  On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process?  What was it yesterday?  Are you growing in the wisdom of God?  And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and do a search of the Proverbs and pick out all the times the phrase “fear of the Lord” is used and write down the references.  What is the Lord trying to say to you in these passages?  What definition of “fear” is being used?  Is it terror and dread or profound respect and honor?  Or is it both?  And how does each passage now read once you understand the meaning of the word?

Now do look at the following passages and try to determine, in context, the definition of fear?  How does that change, if at all, the meaning of what is being said?

1 Samuel 11:7 – So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.” And the fear of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.

2 Chronicles 17:10 – And the fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands that were around Judah, so that they did not make war against Jehoshaphat.

2 Chronicles 19:19 – And he commanded them, saying, “Thus you shall act in the fear of the LORD, faithfully and with a loyal heart.”

Isaiah 33:6 – Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and the strength of salvation; the fear of the LORD is His treasure.

Acts 9:31 – Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

Do you have the fear of the Lord?  If so, what is that like? How has it changed your life and your understanding and love of the Lord?  And if you don’t, why?  Doesn’t not having the fear of the Lord bring you fear?

It should, you know. It really should.

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Riddles and Dark Sayings

Riddles and Dark Sayings

A wise man will hear and increase learning,
and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.
Proverbs 1:5-6

We are now ready to close out the preamble to the Proverbs, and Solomon does that in a surprising way.  Proverbs 1:5 tells us one of the primary purposes of this book, and of wisdom itself, is to allow to us “hear and increase learning (or, to receive teaching, insight, instruction)” and to “attain (or, get, buy, possess, no matter the costs) wise counsel (or, wise guidance, direction, or good advice).”

But we already know that. What we don’t know is why?

Why do we need wise counsel?  What’s the purpose, the pay-off, for us in real time? What’s out there that is so important we’re supposed to learn, to understand, to have insight into?  What about the last part of this passage?  What about the “riddles and dark sayings”?  Because it seems the “wise man” and the “man of understanding” will “hear and increase learning” and “attain wise counsel” for only one reason: “to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).

And what does that mean?


The Climax of the Definition of Wisdom

Remember, a truly wise man is not one who has already attained wisdom, but one who’s keenly aware that he hasn’t, and is desperately striving forward to be more like Christ, or to “press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:12).  He’s one who’s not satisfied with the spiritual status quo and is not content with his Bible College Diploma signifying he has learned all there is to know about Christ and His Word.  No, the wise man longs to dig deeper, to pray harder, to speak louder, to shine brighter, and to love more intensely than he thought humanly possible.

And to this “wise man”, to the “man of understanding”, comes one of the greatest blessings of all.  He, by virtue of the wisdom given him by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, will learn to “understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).  To him, the doors of the deeper truths of the things of God are opened and he is graciously invited to come and dine.

We know the meaning of proverb, but what’s an “enigma”?  And what’s all this about the “words of the wise and their riddles”?

An enigma (mĕliytsah) is translated as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”  Admittedly, it’s a difficult word to translate in this Proverb.  It can also mean “a riddle” or “a symbol or parable” or “a discourse requiring an interpretation” or simply as “a figurative and involved discourse” and is closely related to the phrase “riddles” or “dark sayings.”  Therefore, when rendered together, it means something obscure in meaning, or some truth that is difficult to uncover and understand.

How do we know this?  By looking at the meaning of “riddles” or “dark sayings.”  The word translated here is hiydah and means “difficult questions, perplexing sayings, a statement with a double meaning, or dark and obscure utterances.”  They seem to be speaking about truths that are not laying on the surface for everyone to see.  They’re more hidden, like buried treasure, that only the diligent, or wise, will know to dig for and value when found.

And according to the Proverbs, this is the climax, the zenith, the pinnacle of wisdom.  It doesn’t get any better than being able to understand the mysterious, puzzling, profoundly deep things of God that change us forever.  After all, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” says the Lord (Isa. 55:4).  And maybe, just maybe, we can catch a fleeting glimpse of just how high His thoughts are.  What an incredible blessing!  Tell me what compares to having the “mind of Christ”? (1 Cor. 2:16).


Ears to Hear

Jesus hinted of this when He used the cryptic phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” before speaking profound truth to only those who were able to receive it— and not to everyone.  These words were not FPC, or “For Public Consumption.”  They were only for those who understood the implications of what the Lord was saying.  We would call those the wise, those who could understand His parables, His stories with their hidden meaning, and the mysterious, deep, dark sayings of the Lord.

Let’s look at a few of these.

When talking about John the Baptist, Jesus said he was the greatest man who ever lived and the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matt. 11:11-13).  And then He threw the crowd a curve.  He said, “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matt. 11:14).  Note the if in His statement.  Not everyone was willing to receive John as coming in the spirit of Elijah.  Why?  Because according to Malachi in the last two verses of the Old Testament, Elijah was to come as the forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ (Mal. 4:5-6).  But John was the forerunner of Jesus.  So if they received what Jesus said about John, they would have to conclude that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Holy One of Israel.

But not everyone was willing to do that.  Therefore, the truth He uttered was not for everyone, but only for a few.  For the chosen, the elect, the ones with believing hearts.  Hence Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him (not everyone else) hear” (Matt. 11:15).

And again, when Jesus preached arguably His most powerful and far reaching parable about the sower and the seeds, He ended it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).  Why?  Because this parable deals with true salvation and the deception of non-saving faith.  It paints a vivid picture of those who are holding on to traditions or the teachings of men and are enamored with Christ for a short while, compared to what true salvation looks like.  And it always involves fruit, and not mere profession (Matt. 7:15-20).  It’s an utterly profound teaching that not everyone would receive, let alone understand.  It’s for the few, the chosen, the elect, the ones “who have ears to hear.”

We see these cryptic, mysterious, dark sayings of Jesus when He spoke about life in the Kingdom (Matt. 13:9).  He also used these words after confronting the Pharisees regarding their religious and spiritual hypocrisy (Mark 7:16).  And when He told His disciples the true costs of discipleship: “So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33), He ended that teaching with the same puzzling words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Luke 14:35).  But puzzling to whom?  Obviously not those who have ears to hear.  No, it’s the others, the masses, the everyone else.

And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus ends each of His seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 the same way: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).  If there was ever a book of the Bible full of enigmas, riddles, and dark sayings, it would be the Revelation.  Wouldn’t you agree?


Back to the Dark Sayings

Which brings us back to the Proverbs.

We have been given, as a great and precious gift, the privilege of being able to understand and comprehend the deeper things of God, the sometimes confusing, puzzling, and mysterious aspects of His being.  He has granted us, as mere mortals, insights into the Eternal.  And these great insights, the things “many prophets and righteous men desired to see, and did not see” (Matt. 13:17) have been given to each of us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the Sovereign One Himself. With wisdom, the very wisdom of God, we can now “understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).

All we have to do is use what is now ours.  As Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with the problems longer.”  In other words, I do the work. I put in the time. I stay focused and committed until I find the answer.  And the same can be said regarding wisdom and the child of God.

Just as long as we use what is now ours to use.


Do Not Forsake Your Inheritance

One of the most tragic stories in all of Scripture is the account of Esau trading his blessed inheritance for a bowl of stew— for one meager can of Dinty Moore stew (Gen. 25:33-34).  How could he do such a thing?  Same way we do.  How could he have been so short-sighted, foolish, and just plain stupid?  Same way we are.  And we do it all the time.

Solomon has told us one of the blessings of wisdom, of knowing the Lord in an intimate, personal way, is that by virtue of God’s wisdom imparted to us, we become wise.  That only makes sense.  And one of the blessings of being a wise man is to be able to understand and discern the wondrous and mysterious things in the Word of God that reveal God Himself to us.  And that’s our inheritance, to have the indescribable privilege of calling Him “Abba, Father” and of Him seeing us as His children, His sons, as part of His family (Rom. 8:15).  But there’s more.  Our blessed inheritance means we are also heirs— “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

What compares with that?  And what would you trade for your inheritance?

If you say ” absolutely nothing”!  Great.  But our lives and our affections often tell a different story.  For we do what we want to do and serve who we want to serve.  Jesus put it this way, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).  And if we treasure our life in the here-and-now and what this fallen world thinks of us or promises to give us, then our hearts have drifted far from the inheritance that’s ours and the Kingdom which is our home.  Wisdom no longer is our desire and the “dark sayings” of the Lord remain dark, hidden, and concealed by a veil of our own apathy.  How sad.  How utterly sad and heartbreaking.

We have a promise and an inheritance.  So beware lest you fall into the same trap as Esau and forfeit everything for eternity because we wanted something that tastes good right now.

The spiritual life with Christ is a marathon, not a sprint.  Be committed for the long haul and strive, with all you are, to be a wise man that understands what others call “riddles, an enigma, and dark sayings.”

And be this kind of man, even if you stand alone.


Final Question

The promise sounds appealing, wonderful in fact.  But where do we begin?  What’s the first step?  It’s one thing to talk about the blessings of wisdom and then dangle them out in front of us like a carrot before a horse.  But it’s quite another to provide us with a roadmap, a guide book of some sort, maybe an instruction manual to point us in the right direction.  Otherwise, you leave us hanging, frustrated by seeing the goal and having no clue how to get there.

But there’s good news.  For the Proverbs state the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and then contrasts that with “but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).  We just need to figure out exactly what the “fear of the Lord” means and we should be on our way.

After all, as Julie Andrews sang in the Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

And for us, that beginning is the “fear of the Lord.”

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Getting Serious

1.   When was the last time God spoke to you and revealed something He had previously kept hidden from you?
2.   Do you know why He kept that part of Himself from you?  Was it Him?  Or was the reason something in you?
3.   Do you believe it’s actually possible to have the kind of relationship with the Father that He would be pleased to share His heart with you?  Does your faith stretch that far?  Or, do you think that is just an unobtainable goal?
4.   If you answered, yes, to the last question, what do you plan to do about it?  Are you willing to put in the time and effort to have that kind of relationship with the Lord?  Do you know how to begin?  Do you know, right now, of anyone who God does share His heart with?
5.   On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process?  What was it yesterday?  Are you growing in the wisdom of God?  And, if not, why?


Next Step Challenge

Take your Bible and look up every time the Lord spoke the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” and write them down.  Then, spend some time reading them in context and see what the Lord is trying to say when He spoke those words.

Do you understand His message and the implications of what He is teaching?  Do His words have any impact in your life right now?  Is there something He is trying to say to you when you read His words?

Do you have ears to hear?  And, if so, do you hear what He is saying to you right now?

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