Summary: An introduction to wisdom, proverbs, and four prerequisites to wising up about our lives.
All of us carry with us the collective wisdom passed on to us by the people who’ve been most significant in our lives. We’ve picked this wisdom up from parents, friends, teachers, coaches…all the people who shaped and molded us as we were growing up. Some of this wisdom is very helpful. But some of is just plain wrong.I now realize that some of the wisdom I picked up growing up was plain wrong. For instance, one of my family’s mottos growing up was, "Look out for number one." By saying we need to look out for number one, we meant that in the end, each person has to look out for his or her own needs first. Looking out for number one means I make sure my needs are met, and then I’ll start thinking about your needs. I tried to live by that wisdom through my high school years. But when I got married I figured out that this was pretty bad advice. I soon learned that two people who live by that motto can’t sustain a long term relationship of mutual commitment. By the time I started having kids, I realized that it was impossible to live a wise life by embracing that motto.
Another one of our family mottos was, "If it feels good, do it." You have to understand, my parents were hippies for in the 1960s and 1970s. The hippie movement was all about throwing off the constraints of society, rejecting social rules, and living an alternative kind of lifestyle. That made for a very colorful childhood, as you could probably imagine. It’s this motto "if it feels good, do it," that ultimately led to my parent’s marriage crumbling. Yet I lived by this motto throughout my high school years, even though it caused lots of pain and grief. Only when I became an adult did I begin to realize that it was unwise to chase every pleasure that came by, that wisdom was learning when and where to say no.
What kind of wisdom did people pass on to you? What mottos from coaches, parents, and teachers have shaped and molded you into what you are today? Some of it was probably pretty good, and some of it was probably wrong. Part of being an adult is sorting through that stuff, keeping the truly wise, and rejecting the unwise.
Today we start a new series called WISE UP ABOUT LIFE. In this series we’re going to look at God’s wisdom from the Bible’s book of Proverbs. Each week we’re going to look at what the Bible’s book of Proverbs says about one subject. For example, next week we’ll be talking about God’s wisdom about sex. Then the week after, we’ll talk about God’s wisdom about the environment. In all, we’ll be looking at about thirteen different topics.
But today we’re going to start by talking about God’s wisdom for our lives in general. Today we’re going to find out what true wisdom is, what the proverbs are, and then some prerequisites to living wisely.
1. What is "Wisdom"?
What exactly is "wisdom"? The dictionary defines "wisdom" as the ability to discern what is true or right. So our English word "wisdom" has both moral implications--discerning what’s right--and intellectual implications--discerning what’s true.
The Hebrew word translated "wisdom" in the Bible is a bit more colorful than our English word. The Hebrew word translated "wisdom" is hochma, and it usually refers to some kind of skill or ability. So the Hebrew word distinguishes wisdom from knowledge, because a person can have a mind full of facts, yet lack authentic wisdom. Often the authors of the Bible use this word hochma to describe people who are skilled in a trade or a craft, like wood working, metal working, embroidery, or weaving (New International Dicitonary of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology, Vol. 2, p.133). This same word is used for people who are particularly skillful in tasks like trading, leadership, and even sailing.
Now with that background to the word hochma, look at Proverbs 3:19-20. These two verses represent many verses in Proverbs that describe the relationship between wisdom and God’s creation. Using construction terminology, the author of Proverbs pictures God as being like an architect and wisdom as being like the builder. As the architect, God designs the blueprint for the universe, but then its wisdom who actually builds off that blue print.
Now this doesn’t mean that wisdom is a literal person. The book of Proverbs often personifies wisdom as a woman. In fact, all of chapter 8 is a poem about "lady wisdom." We do the same thing when we personify luck as "lady luck." So speaking of wisdom as a person is a literary device to call our attention to wisdom. You see, God is a wise God, so much so, that you can almost talk about God’s wisdom as if it were a person in its own right. And since the Hebrew word for wisdom hochma is a feminine noun, Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman. Lady wisdom is the one who puts God’s creative blueprint for the world together.