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The Message of Proverbs: Watch Out for the Ladies

Sermon on Proverbs
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The book of Proverbs is a long and colourful fireside chat.  It’s the words of a father to his son.  Verse 1 introduces us to the father:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel

Verse 8 addresses the son:

8 Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

In fact Solomon keeps saying, over twenty times in this book, “My son, my son, my son.”  The King is addressing the crown prince and saying, “Now boy, here’s what you need in life.”

When we read Proverbs we should be aware, we’re eavesdropping on a fireside chat.  It’s not a transcript of a real conversation.  It’s written in rich picture language and riddles and rhymes that need to be chewed over and slowly digested.  But it’s advice from Solomon to his son the prince.  And here’s what his advice boils down to:  Watch out for the ladies.  In particular there are two ladies you need to look out for.

There’s a lady called Wisdom – she is magnificent, she is heart-captivating, she is beautiful, she is more precious than rubies, she is everything you need.  If you get her, you lack nothing.  So whatever else you get in life, get her – get Wisdom – embrace her, marry her.

Then there’s another lady called Folly.  She is loud and flashy and deceptive and seductive and deadly.  She is the original femme fatale.  If you get her you lose everything.

So avoid her, ignore her, resist her, don’t be seduced, don’t be ensnared by her.

So, my son, watch out for the ladies.  Embrace Wisdom, shun Folly.

According to Proverbs, success in life is not ultimately a matter of the intellect. It’s not about having enough education.  It’s not about your IQ.  It’s not ultimately about having enough information to make wise choices.

And neither is success about the will – as though we just need to apply ourselves, be determined and resolved and just do it!.  No, Wisdom and Folly are matters of the heart.

Solomon says to the prince in Proverbs 4:23

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Dear Son – your heart is everything.  What you LOVE will be a wellspring, it will flow out into every area of life.

Life’s not basically a matter of the mind, or a matter of the will.  At the deepest level, life is about the heart.  Our lives will be a success depending on what we love.  Or rather on Who we love.

Because Wisdom is very definitely a Person.  She is Lady Wisdom.

Look at chapter 1 verse 20 and we’ll see Lady Wisdom make her appeal to mankind

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 to you and made my thoughts known to you.

Do you see how Wisdom is a Person – a Person with things to say, with a heart to pour out, with thoughts to make known.  Wisdom is a Person, and notice what Wisdom assumes about the human race.  Verse 22 (have a look) – we are simple, we are mockers, we are fools.  By nature we are simple, mocking fools.

There’s a famous proverb later on that says “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” (Prov 22:15)  We are born with foolish hearts.

And so Wisdom rebukes us and says, v23: “I will pour out my heart to you and make my thoughts known to you.”  That’s the offer of Wisdom.

If you read on in chapter 1 you’d see that no-one seems to be taking her up on her offer.  In later chapters that will change.  But the offer is there in v23:  “I will pour out my heart (and this is the same word as for Spirit – I will pour out my Spirit) to you and make my thoughts known to you.”  Wisdom offers a heart-to-heart.  If we listen to her and embrace her, we fools can be filled with the Spirit of Wisdom.

And so throughout Proverbs, the King tells his son – watch out for the ladies.  Get Wisdom, love Wisdom.  She calls out to you, embrace her.  The deepest issue in life is to be wooed and won by Wisdom.  Because otherwise we’ll just follow our natural inclinations towards Folly.

In fact as you turn the pages through the early chapters of Proverbs you’ll see this fatherly advice.  Look at the heading of chapter 5: Warning Against Adultery.  Solomon is going to warn his son about a seductive adulteress whose lips drip honey.  She’s like a cheating footballers wife, all peroxide and silicone and fake tan.  And you’d be a fool to stray into her path and listen to her seduction.

Then in chapter 6 it might look like Solomon starts talking about something else, the heading says: Warnings Against Folly.  But then, later on in the chapter look at the next heading– Warning Against Adultery.  It’s all woven in together.  Chapter 7 continues, look at the heading: Warning Against the Adulteress. Solomon wants us to know – the Adulteress IS Folly.

It really is a case of ‘Watch out for the ladies.’  Wisdom is like the best wife.  Folly is like the worst adulteress.  So then, look from chapter 7, verse 24:

24 Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. 25 Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. 26 Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. 27 Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.

The adulteress purrs “Come to my house”, but it’s a highway to hell.  This is very strong language. But Solomon isn’t just warning us about the cheating footballer’s wife.

When we step into the shoes of the young prince at the fire-side chat then Folly is presented as an adulterer.  But, stepping out of that scenario, in reality Folly aint no Lady.  Folly is the devil.  Folly is that original Deceiver whose house is the highway to hell.  Folly is the one who looks so flashy and enticing, who promises the world but delivers death.

At the end of the day, Folly aint no Lady.  Folly is the devil.

But the way all the devil’s temptations work is like adultery.  Every temptation, whether it’s lust or whether it’s greed or whether it’s pride or whether it’s selfishness, or whatever it is, every temptation is a seduction.  Every temptation you’ve ever felt has tried to capture your heart.

And whether you’re seeking to combat temptations towards lust and adultery, or whether you’re battling temptations to over-work, or to withdraw from difficult relationships, or to be cowardly in a situation, or to pursue greed and selfishness, or whatever it is – that temptation is a seduction, it’s grabbing your heart.

And if you’ve ever tried to argue someone out of an affair, you’ll know how useless it is to appeal to their reason or their will-power.  You reason with them and say “Think of your wife, think of your children.”  And they say “I know, but I love Brenda.”  And you go for their will-power and say, “Map up.  Be strong, end it now.”  And they say “I can’t, you don’t know how she makes me feel.”  You can threaten them with the most dire consequences in the world, and they will clutch Brenda to their hearts come what may.  It’s madness.  But that’s what all sin is like.

All sin works the way adultery works.  All sin looks to capture our hearts.  And if our hearts are grabbed then all the reason and will-power in the world will be useless.

What do we need?  If we’re going to be saved from Folly, from the highway to hell, what do we need?  We need a greater love.

And so that’s what Solomon presents from chapter 8.

In this chapter Lady Wisdom steps forward in all her magnetic beauty to call out to us in the streets.  And it’s such a contrast.

Because according to the last 3 chapters, the streets are full of stupid young men straying into the paths of voluptuous sex-kittens.  That’s the picture of the human race given here.  It’s what stupid humanity is like – all of us are naturally like a young man wandering into the red-light district all alone.  He may fall for the leggy blonde while you fall for the praise of men – but you’re both fools being seduced.

But in chapter 8 another Lady lifts up her voice and she too goes after our hearts.

Read with me from verse 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. 6 Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. 7 My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. 8 All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. 9 To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. 10 Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, 11 for Wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

That’s how you fight the seduction of Folly.  You listen to someone even more captivating.  Wisdom is more precious than rubies and NOTHING you desire can compare with her.

If we’re going to be saved from Folly we need to see the matchless beauty of this One called Wisdom.

Well who is this Wisdom then?  Let’s look at chapter 8 from v27.  Wisdom is still speaking in verse 27 and says:

27 I was there when He [that is ‘the LORD’] set the heavens in place, when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, 28 when He established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, 29 when He gave the sea its boundary so that the waters would not overstep His command, and when He marked out the foundations of the earth. 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.

So this Person called Wisdom is older than the universe, is the Craftsman of all creation.  Wisdom is the One filled with joy at God’s side.  Just imagine that for a moment: v30 ‘at God’s side and filled with delight.’  That’s the natural habitat of this Person called Wisdom.  That’s Home for Wisdom.  Even before there was a universe this was the life Wisdom has enjoyed: ‘At God’s side, filled with delight.

Wisdom is very old, very powerful and very happy.

Verse 31, Wisdom also has a deep love for the world and a delight in mankind.  And the whole point of chapter 8 is that Wisdom comes down into the world to call us out of our foolishness and into her house.

Who is Wisdom?  Well if we haven’t already guessed, the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 1:

“Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God... Christ Jesus has become for us Wisdom from God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24,30)

Wisdom is Christ.

And Wisdom is described as Lady Wisdom, in the same way that Folly is described as Lady Folly.  In reality, they’re not actually women, but within the thought-world of Proverbs, stepping into the young prince’s shoes, Wisdom is presented as the ultimate wife.  Just as the young prince is to marry the wise woman, so we are meant to love and embrace Jesus Christ.

It’s Jesus who is more precious than rubies.  It’s Jesus who is the Craftsman of Creation.  It’s Jesus who is at the right hand of God, full of joy.  It’s Jesus who delights in the world.  Nothing we desire can compare to Jesus.

And as we go about our lives, following after our foolish desires, Jesus addresses us.  And He says, v32 (read with me):

"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."

The Craftsman of Creation is speaking to each of us here tonight.  And He says:  ‘Listen to me, find me, watch for me, wait for me.’  To find Jesus is to find life.  To spurn Jesus is to hate life.

Jesus is life.  And v35 tells us what happens when we embrace Jesus: “Whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the LORD.”

Can you comprehend divine favour resting on you?

What is it like for God to turn His face towards you and beam with joy, can you imagine that?  It’s astonishing.  Especially given how foolish we are.  Especially given the way we’ve been flirting with that prostitute called money.  We’ve been romancing that adulteress called arrogance.  We’ve been in bed with laziness (appropriately enough) and we’ve been spurning the love of Jesus constantly.

But Jesus calls out to us in the midst of our spiritual adulteries and draws us to Himself.  And suddenly we find a verdict coming from God.  And it’s not the condemnation we deserve.  God doesn’t turn His face from us away in disgust.  He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder.  No, the Most High God turns His face towards us and is gracious to us.

And you say, surely not.  Surely at best, He’s got His arms folded, slight frown, an exasperated look on His face.  No.  I’m telling you what Jesus Christ tells you in v35. If you’ve found Him – if you’re a Christian – Almighty God is brimful of joy with you and He showers favour and blessing on you.  Right now.  No matter what adulteries you’re guilty of.

How could that be?  Well, we’ve seen in Proverbs 8 that divine favour has always rested on Jesus.  V30 - He has been rejoicing at the Father’s side from before the world began.  Blessings and favour have crashed down on His head from all eternity.  But if you find Jesus, He embraces you in a marriage like union.  And as chapter 9 says, we come into His house – into His household, His family – and that favour that has always rested on Jesus, now it rests on you.

God loves you with the very love with which He loves His Son.  If you love Jesus, if you have come to Him to be joined to Him, you HAVE life, eternal life, you have blessings, eternal blessings, you have favour, eternal favour.

“My Son”, says Solomon, “Whatever else you get – get Wisdom.  Nothing you desire can compare with her.”

The adulteress with her cheap make-up and false promises cannot compare.  No sin, no temptation, no guilty pleasure can compare to Jesus – More precious than rubies.

Have you found Jesus yet or are you falling for some other adulteress?  What is it?  Sex?  Pride?  Self-centredness?  Comfort?  What seduces you and says “I’m life, I am what it’s all about”?

That thing doesn’t compare to Jesus – the Fairest among ten thousand – the Craftsman of Creation – the One Filled with Joy at the Father’s Side – the One who delights in you.  Find Him and you’ve found life and you’ll have God’s favour now and eternally.

This is what life is about.  Heart-to-heart with Jesus.

Which means we will grow in our Christian lives, not primarily through more Christian education or more Christian determination but both those things come from the true wellspring which is our HEARTS.

What do you love?  Do you love Jesus or has your heart grown cold?

At this time of year I’m sure many of us have resolved to read our bibles more in 2011.  Great.  Why?

Do we want to fill our heads with new information that will help us make good decisions?  Do we want little bible pep-talks each day to urge us on to Christian goodness?  OR will we open our bibles and pray “Father, show me Jesus.  Show me Jesus in all His heart-captivating beauty.  Show me Jesus who loves me even though I’m an adulterous fool.  Show me Jesus so that nothing I desire will ever eclipse Him.”  That’s what bible reading is for.  It’s essential.  But don’t just open the bible.  Open the bible to find Christ.  Open the bible to have your heart warmed by Him.

And then, you’ll start acting wise.  Bound to happen.  If your heart is set on Jesus who IS Wisdom and if (as He promises in chapter 1) He pours His Spirit out to us, and if, as chapter 6 tells us, He gives us teachings that inform us, and if, as chapter 9 tells us, Christ draws us into a House of Wisdom – the church, where we walk alongside other wise people – then obviously we’ll start living wisely.

And that’s what chapter 10 to the end is all about.  From chapter 10 – have a look – Solomon just applies all this stuff and says, Right: If you’ve been made wise by Wisdom then this is how you’ll act.  And if you’re still foolishly seduced by the world, this is how you’ll act.  Pretty much all the Proverbs follow the pattern of chapter 10, verse 1:

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.

All the proverbs basically say:

The wise person acts like this and it’s good
The foolish person acts like that and it’s bad.

That’s how Proverbs puts it.  A wise person JUST DOES act like this.  And a foolish person JUST DOES act like that.  That’s the way their hearts take them.  Proverbs doesn’t say – “if you want to become wise act like this.”  No, no.   Chapters 1-9 come first!

If you want to become wise, then you MUST come to the Person of Wisdom – you must trust in Jesus Christ.  But once you DO trust Jesus Christ, chapter 10 and following will describe how the life of wisdom looks.

That’s important because as I close, there are three myths that this debunks about living wisely in the world. There’s the myth that says

What we choose makes us who we are

This myth says that we are brave, strong heroes who are the captains of our souls and we can fashion our own lives as we se fit.  We’ve just got to be educated enough and strong willed enough and we’ll choose the right path and make ourselves good wise people.

Rubbish, the bible says we’re foolish and fickle.  Every man, woman and child is naturally like the youth straying into the red light district.  We fall for any old seduction.

Instead we need to be wooed and won by Jesus Christ.  He needs to unite us to Himself and make us wise.  Then we’ll live wisely.

Do you see the difference?

Here are two more myths about walking in wisdom.

The first is the tight-rope walker approach to walking in wisdom.  The tightrope walker thinks it’s all about the right choices and there’s one best path for them and if they miss it they’ve fallen off God’s will for their life.  Is that how you think about walking in wisdom?

The other approach is the boundary keeper.  This person thinks it’s all about freedom.  Essentially there are some boundaries out there – don’t break the ten commandments.  But if you’re not hurting anyone, just get on and live how you want, it doesn’t matter.

What are you more like, the tightrope walker or the boundary keeper?

Well they’re both wrong.  And let’s turn to Proverbs 3 to see why.

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.  By nature foolishness is bound up in our hearts.  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.  This is a matter of the heart – Love the LORD who delights in you.

Don’t lean on your own understanding.  We’re like the guy caught in adultery we don’t think straight, we’re naturally foolish, we need to listen again to Jesus.

And then, I love the second sentence there.  In all your ways acknowledge Him.  Isn’t that great.  It doesn’t say “As you travel along God’s one path.”  It says in all your ways.

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 Craftsman of Creation will straighten what we make crooked.  He’ll redeem old mistakes we’ve made and simplify new options in the future.  Keep your eyes on Him and He’ll take care of the path.

Shall we say these verses out loud together?

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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