Summary: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. What is the fear of the Lord? How does this play out in my life? Let's meditate on these words from Proverbs.

Text: Proverbs 9:8-12

Theme: Wisdom Learns in Reverent Fear

A. Humbly receive the Lord's correction

B. Continue growing in wisdom all your life

Season: Pentecost 16c

Date: September 12, 2010

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us wisdom is Proverbs 9.

"Don't correct a scoffer, or he will hate you; correct a wise person, and he will love you. Give [instruction] to a wise person, and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous person, and he will add to his learning. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD; knowledge of the Holy One is discernment. For through me (wisdom) your days will be many, and the years of your life will increase. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it." (Proverbs 9:8-12)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Stephen Hawking has just authored a new book. He's arguably the most renowned physicist since Einstein. He suffers from a neuro-muscular dystrophy that's related to ALS but has become a public icon in his motorized wheelchair and with his voice synthesizer. He's a very smart man. Much smarter than any of us.

But he has no true wisdom. In his new book, The Grand Design, he declares that under M-Theory many, many universes spontaneously have come into existence and the one that happened to have the right set up for life is the one we're in. So you no longer need a god. You don't even need him to light the fuse to get things started or to explain why the laws of nature are just right for human life. It all would eventually happen, given enough universes. So his new book declares.

But, dear friends, the very beginning of wisdom, its fundamental principle, starts with the fear of the Lord. No matter how smart, intelligent, bright, gifted, skillful, knowledgeable, insightful a person is in the ways of the world, he or she has no true wisdom without the fear of the Lord. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10 NIV). So don't be deceived by them.

But we're not here to criticize a great physicist. In fact, even mentioning what I have tempts us to an arrogance that figures we've got it made since we know the Lord. That's the kind of pride that leads us to fall from God's family and end up worse than someone who never was a child of God. So watch yourself. True wisdom has no place for such pride or arrogance. Rather wisdom learns in reverent fear. That's the theme this morning.

A. Humbly receive the Lord's correction

You see, true wisdom humbly receives the Lord's correction. "Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning" (Proverbs 9:8, 9 NIV). True wisdom is not complacent with what already know. It wants to know the Lord better. That's why we love the Lord's correction and discipline. It adds to our wisdom.

It's the fear of the Lord that brings us this mindset that is ready to learn his wisdom more and more with humbleness and eagerness. So let's talk about what that phrase means: /the fear of the Lord/.

The slave cringes as his master's whip slices across his back. That's not the fear of the Lord that brings wisdom. That kind of fear brings only terror and hatred. It wants to run away, as far way as possible. It wants to hide, as Adam and Eve hid after they sinned against God. This is the fear that fills the unforgiven heart, the fear that's brought by guilt and the consciousness of the punishment that's justly deserved.

The fear of the Lord that brings wisdom does not swim in those icy waters of terror, hatred, and guilt. Rather it bathes in the warmth of the Lord's overflowing love and forgiveness. Maybe that sounds like a contradiction. We often pit fear and love as working against each other. And yet, how often haven't you recited the explanation to the commandments: "We should fear and love God . . ."? Have you pondered how those two fit together?

Such fear and love exist in harmony only in the heart of faith that trusts God's forgiveness in Jesus. For he is the Lord, who freely made his promise of forgiveness and faithful kept it on the cross. If we try to just focus on God's love and forgiveness ignoring the fear of the Lord, Satan easily misleads us into abusing God's love and forgiveness. You see that so much in the world day. No doubt, like me, you have struggled with it in your own heart. How easy to begin to imagine that since God loves us, he must be like a good buddy. He'll be there for me. He'll support me. He'll see me through, no matter what I do. So I can just do as I please, and if I feel like it, I can give him a call. How that abuses God's love and turns his forgiveness into a license to sin!

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