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A Proverbs sermon

We're discussing Proverbs at Bish's blog.  I've written some longish comments.

Here's an old sermon I preached on Proverbs to some Christians and non-Christians.  Audio here

[SLIDE – Our Plans, God’s Plans]

This morning we’re thinking about guidance, life choices, decisions, Our plans and God’s plans.

We’re living in an interesting time with regards to choice.  Our culture is always telling us that our choices make us who we are.  Is that true? 

Well I guess I could tell you some of the story of my life by telling you the choices I’ve made.  I decided to go to university.  I decided to marry Emma.  I decided to go into church work.  But that doesn’t tell the whole of my story.  Not at all.  What about the bits I didn’t decide. 

You see my parents never decided to have me – I was an accident (as they would always remind me).  But I’d always console myself by thinking ‘I never decided to have you either.’ And I didn’t.  I never decided to be born in the 20th century in the West.  I never decided to grow up in Canberra.  I never decided all sorts of things that have made me who I am.  And that’s not even to mention the hundreds of decisions I tried to make happen but failed.  Those failures have made me the person I am too. 

As we think about making right choices, let’s relax a bit.  Our choices are important but they are not the whole story.  Didn’t John Lennon say ‘Life’s what happens to you while you’re busy making plans’? 

This morning we’re going to think about three mistakes you can make when you think about guidance. 

[SLIDE – Three mistakes]

As we look at the teaching of Proverbs we’ll hopefully address those three mistakes.

The first mistake is to think that our choices make us who we are. 

[SLIDE – ‘what we choose => who we are’]

That’s what the culture says.  The culture says ‘Choose this, make this plan, take this path then you’ll be a significant person.’  What we choose makes us who we are.

The second mistake is what I call the ‘tight-rope walker’ approach to guidance.

[SLIDE - tight-rope walkers]

The tight-rope walkers think that there is one right path and at any minute you might put a foot wrong and fall off God’s will for your life.  Guidance then is about making sure you get the one right decision in every circumstance and sticking to that.

Then the third mistake is what I call ‘the boundary keepers’ approach.

[SLIDE – boundary keepers]

The boundary keepers simply think that God has set limits ‘out there’ on your behaviour and as long as you keep within the boundaries you don’t need to bother Him and He ought not to bother you.  The you can get on and make your own decisions thank you very much.

Ok do you have these three types of mistakes in your head?  Do you identify with any of them?  All of them?

Well let’s look at number one.

What we choose leads to who we are.  Now maybe you think this one is not a mistake.  Maybe you think that actually life is all about making right choices so that you become the right kind of person.

Actually a superficial reading of Proverbs might give you that impression.  You see Proverbs is full of sayings.  And a good number of these sayings go something like this:  ‘A wise person does this which is good, but a foolish person does that which is bad.’  And you read 31 chapters of this and you go away thinking that the world is divided up according to how wise or foolish our choices are.  It’s not quite like that.

If you read the book carefully you’ll notice that fundamentally there’s only One wise person.  A Person called Wisdom.  And actually there’s fundamentally only one foolish person.  A person called Folly.  And these two people are two women who compete for the affections of the whole human race.  A good place to see this is in chapter 9.  Why don’t you turn there now – page _____.  Let’s read from v1:

Proverbs 9:1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. 2 She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city. 4 "Let all who are simple come in here!" she says to those who lack judgment. 5 "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. 6 Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.

Ok so Wisdom is a Person who has a house.  And this house is a place of feasting and joy.  Wisdom also has a message for all humankind – v4 ‘you’re simple and you lack judgement.’  As far as the Person called Wisdom is concerned we all have tremendous guidance problems.  But Wisdom calls to us nonetheless to join her in her house and enjoy life and the way of understanding.  Fundamentally there’s only one Wise Person.  But this Wise Person has a house that we can belong to – a house where there’s true life and true understanding. 

Now Folly is another person with another house and we meet her in v13:

13 The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge. 14 She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, 15 calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way. 16 "Let all who are simple come in here!" she says to those who lack judgment. 17 "Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!" 18 But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.

So the woman called Folly is also calling out.  She also assumes that people are basically simple (v16).  And she wants people to join her in her house.  So we’ve got two women calling us to two different houses.  The house of Wisdom is a house of feasting and joy.  The house of Folly is a house of death and judgement.  Now whether you are called wise or foolish, whether you end up at the feast or at the judgement depends on which Person you belong to.  Are you in relationship with Wisdom, or are you in relationship with Folly?

Proverbs is clear that naturally, we are in a relationship with Folly.  We are by nature fools.  Proverbs 22 says ‘Folly (foolishness) is bound up in the heart of a child.’  We are born deeply foolish.  Not just intellectually – spiritually foolish.  We naturally belong to the woman called Folly.  Which means if you haven’t switched sides, you’re still in the house of Folly.  That is not a place you want to be, that is a place without understanding, a place on the way to death and judgement.

But you needn’t belong to that house.  Because Wisdom calls out to you.

Let’s see it again in chapter 8:

Proverbs 8:1 Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud: 4 "To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. 5 You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding.

Wisdom pleads with us in the midst of our busy lives. Do you see in v2 she goes to the cross-roads where people’s paths come together and diverge.  In the midst of all the decisions we have to make, the Person called Wisdom stands above them all and says ‘whatever else you get, get Me. Whatever you choose, choose Me.’  If you want riches, get Wisdom she’s better than any riches.  If you want a spouse, get Wisdom – she’s like the ultimate spouse.  Whatever your plans are in life, make plans with Wisdom. 

Well who is Wisdom.  Let’s look on in the chapter. From v27, Wisdom says…

27 I was there when the LORD set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, … (look down to v30)

30 Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

This Person called Wisdom is older than the universe, is the Craftsman of all creation, and the One filled with joy at God’s side.  Wisdom is an infinitely happy and powerful divine Person.  A Person who comes down into our world and calls to us to leave the house of Folly and to listen. 

Friends, standing over and above the cross-roads of your life is Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the infinitely old, infinitely happy and infinitely powerful divine Person, the Craftsman of all creation (as we learnt at the beginning of our servive.  He is the One who comes down into our world and calls us to belong to Him.  He called to people throughout the Old Testament, including here in Proverbs.  And He came in the flesh in the New Testament to raise His voice and call us to Himself. 

Listen to His call from v32 – Jesus Christ speaks to each of us here this morning – over and above all the choices we have to make:

"Now then, my sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. 33 Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. 34 Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the LORD. 36 But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death."

In the midst of all your decisions, Jesus Christ says ‘Listen to me, find me, watch for me, wait for me.’  To find Jesus is to find lifeLife doesn’t come in those plans you’ve been making – life comes in belonging to Jesus Christ.

When you belong to Jesus, when you switch over from the house of Folly, you start (in Proverbs 9 terms) feasting with Jesus, enjoying His friendship and you start listening to Him and (v33) as you listen to His instruction you become wise.

Do you see what has happened – you’ve come to Wisdom, you now belong to the house of Wisdom and then you start being wise.  And wise people start to make wise decisions. 

Do you see how mistake number one is really a mistake.  We think we can become wise people by choosing the right paths.  And we can’t – we are fools, we are simpletons and the paths we choose will only end in death and judgement.  Wisdom calls out to us over and above all our decisions and says “Come to Me.”  Become wise by coming to Jesus – then you will start to act wise.

So it’s not “make right choices so you become a right person” – it’s “become a right person in Jesus Christ. Then you’ll start to make right choices.”

[SLIDE – cross out wrong, put in right]

Now if you’re not yet a Christian I hope you see what this means to you.  Jesus calls out to you and says ‘Stop going your own way.’  There’s a proverb in chapter 28 that says this:

[SLIDE – Proverbs 28:26]

Proverbs 28:26 whoever trusts in themselves is a fool, but the one who walks in wisdom is kept safe.

A fool is just a person who trusts in themselves – who relies on their own strength, their own decision making, their own plotting and planning and strategising to make life work.  If you rely on yourself to get through life and not on Jesus Christ, the bible would say you’re a fool. 

When I became a Christian perhaps the biggest difference I noticed was realising that I was wrong about stuff.  Every day almost I’d discover something new that I was wrong about.  Me!  Wrong!  It was an incredible revolution.  (I remember before I was a Christian an old girlfriend of mine, whenever we got into a fight, at some point she’d cry out in exasperation ‘Oh Glen, you’re always so…. Right!’  And of course I’d say ‘uh-huh… which makes you…!’ I’m sure God made me a Christian just to get back at me.) Every day ‘wrong again!’ It really hurt, but throughout Proverbs Jesus keeps saying ‘you’re wrong, you’re foolish.  But listen to me, come into my house. Eat and drink with me.  Learn from me.  I’ll guard you, I’ll keep you, just stop trusting yourself.’  There are people here this morning who need to do that.

But this also has application for people who are already Christians.  Do you realise that if you trust Jesus, you are already in the house of Wisdom.  And that means you already have the resources to make wise choices.  Let me tell you about three resources that every member of the house of Wisdom has.

[SLIDE] 

The Craftsmanship of Jesus

The Teaching of Jesus

The People of Jesus 

First you have the Craftsmanship of Jesus.  Jesus is the Craftsman of Creation (that’s what Proverbs 8 calls Him).  He is the Craftsman of Creation, the Craftsman of History and the Craftsman of your life story.  He rules over all your plans and all your failures and He will make something cool out of them.

Proverbs is full of this theme.  Have a look at these verses:

[SLIDE – verses]

Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 21:30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.

We have plans.  The LORD has a good purpose.  And these verses tell us, whether I simply cast lots (which is like tossing a coin) or whether I make a poor choice, or even if I make a wicked choice, you’re not going to muck up God’s good purpose. Relax a bit.  Trust Jesus, who is a good Craftsman, He can turn even terrible choices into something great.  You might not see it for years, you might not see it until you’re face to face with Him, but He will craft something terrific out of even our stupidest mistakes.

Second, the Teaching of Jesus.  You’re in the house of Wisdom and Wisdom teaches you stuff.  (We’ve got bibles and we’ve got church and sermons) This stuff is meant to inform and guide you.  We see this throughout Proverbs, here’s one example.

[SLIDE – verse]

Proverbs 6:20-23 My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart for ever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life,

The teaching that we get will guide us.  It will inform our thinking.  It won’t tell us directly to ‘take this job’ but the longer we’ve been in the house of Wisdom, the more Wisdom’s teaching will shape our motivations and define our goals in life.  More and more as we sit under this teaching we’ll be equipped to make wise choices.

Thirdly, the People of Jesus.  This is all over Proverbs.  Here’s a sample of verses:

[SLIDE – verses]

Proverbs 13:20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

The more time you spend with other members of the house of Wisdom, the wiser you will become.

Proverbs 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Do you talk over your big decisions with mature Christian friends?  If not, why not – look at the next verse…

Proverbs 18:1 An unfriendly man (a man who separates off from others) pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.

If you want to go off and make a decision on your own, it’s going to be a selfish decision and a stupid one.  If it’s not something you want other Christians to know about, it is definitionally a foolish plan.  Jesus has given us each other as counsellors, so let’s use one another.

So we can make wise choices if we belong to Jesus Christ because He is Wisdom and we become wise in relationship with Him.  And Jesus’ Craftsmanship, His teaching and His people are given to us so we can make more and more wise choices.

Finally and very briefly.  What do we think about these last two mistakes?  Are you a tight-rope walker or a boundary keeper?

The tight-rope walker thinks there’s one path for them and any minute they might put a foot wrong and fall off God’s will for their life.  The boundary keeper thinks anything goes so long as you keep within the rules.  They’re both wrong.  Let’s look at one final verse – perhaps the most famous passage from Proverbs:

[SLIDE – verse]

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Let me take you through this verse.  Trust in the LORD. Don’t trust in yourself.  We are fools, we mustn’t trust in our wisdom or our ability to navigate through life.  Trust in the LORD and not with the fear of the tight-rope walker or the detachment of the boundary keeper.  Trust in Him with all your heart – have heart-felt affection for this LORD who has brought you into His house in order to give you feasting and true life.  Don’t lean on your own understanding, we’re naturally foolish, we all need to begin again with the teaching of Jesus.  And then, I love the second sentence there.  In all your ways acknowledge Him. You see we do have different ways that we can travel on, and they are truly our ways – so the tight-rope walker is wrong.  But as we travel on these different ways we are to acknowledge Him.  Literally that word is ‘to know’ Him.  Whatever path we take we are to walk it with the LORD.  Take the job, don’t take it. Marry the person, don’t marry them but whatever you do, know the LORD.  And then the promise ‘He will make your paths straight.’  That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy.  A straight path can take you straight through a dark forest or straight into the path of a roaring lion.  But the thing about a straight path is, you can see the end.  And the end, for someone who belongs to Wisdom is life and a feast that will make all our journeys worth the trouble.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

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0 thoughts on “A Proverbs sermon

  1. Missy

    Dude! This is so helpful. I've been discussing this with my dad and baby bro for a decade and maybe my position was wrong. Digging in!

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