We've thought about the chief error in guidance - believing that our choices make us who we are. That's Pelagian/Erasmian/Enlightenment garbage. But it infects everything.
One way it plays out is by feeding a familiar false dichotomy: it's the old boundary keeper versus tight-rope walker dilemma.
The 'boundary keeper' believes God has set limits ‘out there’ on our behaviour. There’s the ten commandments etc. And if you keep them – if you keep within the boundaries – then choose whatever you want. Get on and do your thing. Don't bother God and God shouldn't bother you.
You can see pretty clearly how the chief error feeds this view. I am my own self-directing godlet (with limits obviously).
But what's interesting is that the flipside to this error is essentially the same hubris differently applied.
Guidance then is all about making sure you make the one right decision in every circumstance.
But of course the question must come: Why? Why must you make the RIGHT decision? Unfortunately, for the tight-rope walker the answer comes: Because my very selfhood / standing before God depends on it. You're still effectively saying "It's all in my hands."
Looks humble and fearful before God. It's still all about you.
What's the answer?
Well this sermon from Proverbs has a go at an answer.
Essentially I conclude - we're not in a wide-open plain, we're not walking a tightrope - we're in the House of Wisdom. From that loving security we grow wise. And with the resources of the House of Wisdom - the Craftsmanship of Jesus; the Teaching of Jesus and the People of Jesus - wise people start making wise choices.
Audio here. Text below.
The whole world seems to think that our choices make us who we are. Our culture is always telling us that our choices determine our identity.
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 take this job and not this job. To move to this city at this stage. But that doesn’t tell the whole of my story. Not at all. What about the bits I didn’t decide. For instance, my parents never decided to have me – I was an accident (as my sisters would always remind me). And I never decided to be born in the 20th century in the West. I never decided to grow up in Canberra. Would you choose your hometown if you had the option? I never decided all sorts of things that have made me who I am.
And this is not to mention all the hundreds of decisions I’ve tried to make happen but they never came off. Those failures have made me who I am too.
So even just looking at our own lives we can see that this belief is a lie. My life is not simply the outcome of my choices. Our lives are much more complicated and surprising than that. Didn’t John Lennon say ‘Life’s what happens to you while you’re busy making plans’?
Proverbs will teach us the exact opposite of the wisdom of the world. Proverbs does not say: wise choices make a wise person. Proverbs says a wise person makes wise choices.
Because actually in Proverbs, 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, page 642. 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). Isn’t that interesting? Both Wisdom and Folly assume that people are simple. And Folly also 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 – but morally and 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 1. Here’s how the book begins – p635. Look at verse 20.
20 Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: 22 "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart [literally the word used by the original author is Spirit - Wisdom says I ‘poured out my Spirit’] to you and made my thoughts known to you…
So again, Wisdom assumes that people are naturally simple and foolish. But Wisdom offers to pour out the Spirit to simple and foolish people and to make them wise. In this chapter she’s not very hopeful that people will actually do it. But do you see what Wisdom wants to do? Wisdom wants to take in the simpletons and fools into her house, to pour out her Spirit on them and to make them wise. That is Wisdom’s offer to the whole world.
Well who is Wisdom? Let’s look at chapter 8 from v27. Let’s dive into the middle of a speech that Wisdom is making. Verse 27:
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.
Well if we hadn’t already got it, Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 says Jesus Christ is the Wisdom of God.
Jesus Christ stands over and the above the cross-roads of our lives. He knows how the world works because He made it. He is the Wisdom by which the universe runs. He knows what’s what. And so from v32 He speaks to each of us here this morning. Over and above all the choices we have to make, He says – v32:
"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 life. Life doesn’t come in those plans you’ve been making – life comes in belonging to Jesus Christ.
Think about it in terms of the two houses of Proverbs 9. Becoming a Christian is basically switching over from the house of Folly to the house of Wisdom. And then you start feasting with Jesus, enjoying His friendship. He pours His Spirit out to you and as you start listening to Him you become wise.
That’s how you become wise – you come to Wisdom – you come to Jesus Christ. And as you spend time in Christ’s house, feasting with Him, filled with His Spirit, listening to His teaching, then you become wise. And wise people start to make wise decisions.
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.”
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.
Don’t trust yourself. Trust Jesus. You’re not wise. He IS Wisdom. And He offers to make you wise, if you just come to Him.
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 - ________]
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 great 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.
Look at that middle one. We have plans. The LORD has a good purpose. And these verses tell us, whether I simply do what the first verse says and cast lots (which is like tossing a coin) or whether I make a poor choice, or even if – like the third verse there – 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 and He does turn even terrible choices into something great. It IS the LORD’s purpose that prevails. 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. No plan can succeed against the LORD.
Think of it like Jesus is your golfing partner. There’s a kind of golf you can play where you take one shot and your partner takes the next shot. And the way I see it, we’re always hacking the ball off into the deepest rough. But nothing is impossible for Jesus. He can play the ball wherever it lies. You’re in the thick wood? No matter. Jesus can play it from there. You’re in a deep bunker? Jesus can play it from there. You’re in the water? Jesus walks on water. It’s not beyond the craftsman of creation to take our messes and craft them into something great. He is in the redemption game. He redeems even our stupidest and wickedest choices and turns them to good.
Never forget the craftsmanship of Jesus – no matter how foolish or sinful your choices have been. If you are in the house of Wisdom – if you are in Christ – He will turn it to good.
The second resource we have is 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 us. We see this throughout Proverbs, here’s one example. Proverbs 6:20-23:
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,
Isn’t that fascinating? The teaching itself will guide us. As we immerse ourselves in the house of Wisdom – we come to church and feast with Jesus (ie we take communion) and read the bible and learn His teachings – all this 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 (literally that means, “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 selfish and stupid. That’s what that verse says: If you want to go off and make a decision on your own, it WILL be selfish and stupid.
There are people here who are about to make significant decisions that you don’t want other Christians to know about. If it’s not something you want other Christians to know about, it is definitely a foolish plan. We need to let trusted Christian friends in on our big decisions. Jesus has given us each other as counsellors, so let’s use one another.
[SLIDE – 3 resources]
Now those are the resources we have been given. So if we have come to the house of Wisdom – we if we trust in Jesus Christ. If He has poured His Spirit out to us, if we have trusted His craftsmanship to make good even our terrible decisions, if we have prayerfully filled our hearts with the teaching of Jesus and surrounded ourselves with the people of Jesus, then we don’t need to wait for signs in the sky. You know the kind of thing – “Lord, I’ll take the job if the next car I see is blue... Ok, best 2 out of 3.” God might give us other kinds of confirmations – but this is the foundation of guidance. And when we have this in place we have all the wisdom we need to get on and make the decision.
Do you see how different this is to the tight-rope walker or the boundary keeper? Do you remember them?
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.
But what have we learnt? We’re not on a thin tight-rope and we’re not on a wide open plain. We are in the house of Wisdom. That’s our context. We’re here with other Christians, feasting with Wisdom, in relationship with Christ. He has poured out His Spirit to us and taught us and He eats with us in the closest possible fellowship. He’s not waiting for you to put a foot wrong and then go “Aha!” But neither does He want us all blasé, going off and making decisions on our own. He wants us to make our decisions from within the loving security of His house.
What does that look like? Well let’s finish by looking at the most famous passage from Proverbs. Proverbs 3:5-6:
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. Jesus lets us own our own decisions, there’s great freedom there – so the tight-rope walker is wrong. But as we travel on these different ways, v6 says 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. The point is not so much to make THE RIGHT DECISION. The point in all our decisions is to KNOW JESUS BETTER.
And then when we make our choices in THAT context, here is 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 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.