The Search For Wisdom – Part 2

Now this morning I want to start by reading an illustration that I think a lot of the guys in the Wednesday group felt like it was quite enlightening. It is from Charles Phillips, his commentary on Proverbs. He says, “Sometimes we use the words knowledge, understanding, and wisdom as though they were synonyms. But a simple illustration will help us discern the differences. A little girl watches her mother doing the ironing. The child is intrigued by the process as the iron eats up the wrinkles and creases in each garment. The phone rings. As the mother goes to answer it, she says to her little girl, don’t touch the iron. It’s hot. The child now has knowledge. The iron is hot. That’s what she’s been taught. As soon as her mother disappears, the little girl decides to try her own hand at ironing. Unfortunately, she touches the iron in the wrong place and is burned. Now she has understanding. The iron is hot. The next day the mother continues with the ironing and again, she’s summoned by the phone and again she issues a warning, don’t touch the iron. It’s hot again, the temptation to do some ironing comes over the little girl. She puts out her hand to grab the iron. Then she remembers her burned finger and leaves the iron alone. She now has wisdom. She truly understands that the iron is hot.”

Now, I think this illustration indicates that understanding is learned through making, I think as we read this, we think understanding is learned through making bad choices. That’s how we gain experience, but you know, the school of hard knocks is just one way of gaining understanding. And again, realize, you know, gaining knowledge and understanding allows us to have that ability to see, and we have to have that ability to see before we have the inclination to choose. But you know, it’s not the only way to gain wisdom, by making mistakes. It is a way, but it’s not the only way, and if you think about it, it’s not the way that I personally would like to gain wisdom. You know, a young girl does not have to get pregnant to learn that premarital sex is foolish. I think what worries parents more than anything else is that our children will make foolish choices and it’ll do irreparable damage that could impact the rest of their lives. But every, you and I both know as well, that we could make a bad choice today and it could ruin the rest of our lives. So, I want to stay on track with this because I think there’s a huge application here as we move forward.

I want to read to you a quote from Blaise Pascal as he observed this issue of wisdom and its place in our lives. And this is, I think, a great insight. He says, “Human beings find life to be unsatisfying and incoherent because they have false beliefs on matters important for living a high quality of life.” I want to read that to you again, and I would really listen to it.

“Human beings find life to be unsatisfying and incoherent because they have false beliefs on matters important for living a high quality of life. Therefore, it is critical that we gain genuine wisdom by uprooting false beliefs and replacing them with true insights and perspective.”

Scott Peck, who is quite a controversial figure today, but a guy who wrote one of the best-selling books in the 1970s, A Road Less Traveled, puts this another way. He says, “That which is false is unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world, the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions, and illusions, the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions. Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. But if our map is false, if it’s inaccurate, we generally will be lost, stumbling in the darkness.”

You know, as we meet this morning, I wonder how many of us are living with false ideas about life, false ideas about reality. I wonder how many of us might have false ideas about God and spiritual reality. You know, one of the things I find when I meet with men. So many of them I meet with do have false ideas about God and Christianity. And it’s not because they’ve been taught heresy, but it’s because of ignorance. So often we have false ideas about God and spiritual reality and spiritual matters because we’re ignorant. In fact, in the Book of Hosea, in the Old Testament, God says, My people perish for a lack of knowledge. Now, you may be sitting in your seat and you might find the words that I just said offensive, but it’s important to know that Proverbs tells us that a key to growing in wisdom is to realize you’re not wise. A recognition that there’s so much, I don’t know, there’s so much I don’t understand. That’s where you need to be if in fact you are going to gain wisdom, because once you believe you have arrived, that you are wiser than everybody else, you just stepped back into the darkness. So, it’s a good place to be, to recognize, I do like wisdom. I am needy because that’s a great place to be. Because the scripture says wisdom only comes to the humble. He gives, and I can’t remember which Proverb, but he tells very clearly, wisdom comes to the humble.

Now, where I want to go now is, after having quoted Pascal and Peck is to go and see what Christ has to say about this because on two separate occasions in scripture, He shares with us some words that give us insights on this issue of having the ability to see. And if you would, turn with me to the book of Luke chapter 11, and I’m going to read verses 34, 35, and 36 (Luke 11: 34-36).

The eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light. But when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.

Someone asked me that verse, or made the comment to me yesterday, that the verse 35 doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. And a better interpretation of that is make sure that the light you think you have is not really darkness. Now, look at this language, the eye is the lamp of the body. For the longest time, I never quite was able to grasp what he was trying to say. This language was confusing, but it was almost two years ago that I did a little research on this because he uses it in another very important place in Matthew, which we’ll look at in a minute. But you think about the eye, what is your eye? Your eye is what you see through.

The great Bible commentator Matthew Henry feels like the eye is our understanding. But a guy, two theologians, Darrell Bock and Knox Chamberlain both agree that the eye is how we perceive reality. How we perceive reality. It’s the lens through which we view life. And the most common word that you and I might use in our vocabulary would be our perspective, because our perspective is the way we view something. But you know, if you look at, at these words, Jesus is also revealing that our perspective, our perception of reality can be rooted in falsehood

Because, if it is, He says, our lives will be full of darkness. He says, the other option is that our perspective can be rooted in the truth. And He says, if that’s the case, our lives will be full of light, and we will have the ability to walk in wisdom. Because guys, truth brings illumination.

You know, when I look back over my life, a very wise man shared these words that I’m going to give to you in just a second. It was almost 18 years ago. And I remember writing them down and I agree with what he said wholeheartedly about perspective. He says, he said to me, “a person’s perspective is everything because it directly affects our priorities and the way we conduct our lives.” And he says, “if you want to see long term change in a person’s life, you must first change their perspective.” Do you see how this is linked to understanding? Go back to the illustration we started with. The little girl had to gain knowledge and understanding before it would it impacted her behavior, before it changed her and the way she made a decision. So, our perspective truly is everything. And I’m going to give you a couple of examples of this.

C.S. Lewis, as many of you know, was an atheist until the age of 31. And when he became a Christian, it changed a lot about his life. But in this book by Armand Nicholi, the Harvard psychiatrist who compares the life of C.S. Lewis with Freud, he says that “by coming to Christ, Lewis’s perspective changed dramatically in the way he valued people. You see, as an atheist, he logically believed that human beings were nothing more than a mass of chemicals with no inherent worth.” But he says, in coming to Christ, his whole view of mankind and really of life was transformed. His perspective was changed. He says, death no longer marked the end of life, but only the end of the first chapter in a book that went on without end. Lewis goes on to say, every human being would live forever, outliving every organization, every state, every civilization on earth. “There are no ordinary people”, Lewis reminded his audience in an address given at Oxford, “no one talks to a mere mortal. It is immortal people who we joke with, work with, marry, snub, exploit. Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” People in Lewis’s new view transcend in time and significance everything else on earth. This forced him to set new priorities in his life. The first priority given to his relationship with the creator, the second priority to his relationship with others. Do you see what happened? His perspective changed. And now notice what it says. I’m going to go back and see, and when his perspective changed, it says it forced him to set new priorities in his life. That’s what our perspective does. It impacts our priorities, it impacts our choices, it impacts what we do with our lives.

A second example I want to share with you comes from this book, Seasons of Life. This is a book that for any of you in the Bible studies, that we meet with regularly. We read this book and a number of you are familiar with it and it’s a book about a guy by the name of Joe Irman. He was an all-American football player at Syracuse, and he went on to be All-Pro with the Baltimore Colts. But the book is really a view of his life and another football coach and a football season. They coached high school football and they had phenomenal success, but they weren’t about winning football games. Their view of coaching was that they were there to teach young teenage boys how to become men. And it’s not a prescriptively Christian book because it’s written by this guy, Jeffrey Marks, a Jewish guy who’d won a Pulitzer Prize, but who was fascinated with the work that they were doing. And so you see it from his viewpoint. But one of the things that he talks about, and Irman spends a lot of time focusing in on this, is that most young men’s perspective on masculinity is false. They have a false view, they have a false perspective, they have a false idea of what it means to be a man. And he says that lens, that perspective through which they see life is rooted in falsehood.

Let me read to you a few of the words that he shares about this. He says, “as young boys, we’re told to be men or to act like men, and once you start getting close to adolescence, you get that verbalized pretty quickly. But the problem is that in this society, in most homes, it’s never defined. We’ve got all these parents saying, ‘be a man’ to boys that have no concept of what that means. Most of the fathers don’t have any grip on a definition. So how could the sons possibly know what’s expected of them? Joe told me about a simple exercise he often uses when directing men’s workshops. He hands out note cards and asks the participants to write a definition of masculinity. He says, most men are absolutely dumbfounded by the question. They really don’t write anything at all. Or it ends up being a definition based on some kind of functional or material thing like getting a good job or something like that. Then he says, sometimes he’ll ask young boys to answer the same question. With kids, it’s always about some kind of strength or power stuff. Joe said, it’s always about some kind of capacity to control. It’s like you and young kids say my father can beat up your father. If you don’t get some kind of clear, compelling definition of masculinity at home, then you’re pretty much left at the mercy of this society and the messages that are going to speak to masculinity and manhood, messages that come from the movies, the media, athletics. This is how young men develop their perspective on what it means to be a man. Consequently, most young men have no idea what true masculinity is.”

And he defines false masculinity in this way. He says, “There are three components. It starts at an early age with athletic ability and athletic performance. And then as young men get older, they focus on success with the opposite sex and sexual conquest. And then when they get older, it has to do with economic success, the type of job you have, the amount of money you earn. This is the way young men are taught in our culture about what does it mean to be truly masculine, to be a real man. That’s a false view, that is a false perspective.” And he says, that’s why so many young men’s lives are so messed up. And then he goes on and talks about true masculinity, which is rooted in Biblical truth. And he says, “Masculinity first and foremost ought to be defined in terms of relationships. It ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and be loved.” He says, “A second component is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that’s bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants and desires.” And the final component has to do with, he calls it a code of conduct, which ultimately, he’s talking about our character.

Do you see in just these few words that I’ve shared with you from this book, do you see how a young man’s understanding of masculinity impacts his priorities and his choices and his behavior? I mean, just think how healthy teenage boys would be if their view of manhood was rooted in this truth. But you know, as we think about this, I know there are a number of you here like myself who have daughters and you know, growing up to be a young woman, and this idea of femininity can also very easily be distorted. I want to read to you, there was a book called The Body Project that points out the modern fixation on the body and its external appearance by comparing the diaries of adolescent girls from a century ago to those of modern times. One typical girl of 1890s wrote, “resolved to think before speaking, to work seriously, to be self-restrained in conversations and actions, not to let my thoughts wander, to be dignified, interest myself more in others.” Her counterpart in the 1990s recorded these goals. “I’ll try to make myself better in any way I possibly can. I will lose weight, I’ll get new lenses. Already got a new haircut, good makeup, new clothes and accessories.”

You know, one of the greatest problems young teenage girls in our culture have to deal with today is this problem of anorexia. I was talking to a young guy yesterday and he said, yeah, he’s 25 years old. He says, I’ve dated a couple of girls that struggle with anorexia. And you know, if you think about it, anorexia is a direct product of a false view of femininity. Because if a young girl believes that the ideal woman is a beautiful skinny model, they will starve themselves to death to reach that ideal. And as Philip Yancey says, prior to modern western civilization, which is right now, prior to modern Western civilization, there is no known history of anorexia in the lives of young women. It’s a new phenomenon and it’s because young women have a false view of femininity and what it really means to be a woman.

I don’t know how many of you saw this in The Wall Street Journal last week, and I’m very sensitive to this because we’ve all been touched by suicide, but it was an article on teen suicide and it says, “teen suicide is tied to body image, suicidal impulses and attempts are much more common in teenagers, primarily young women who think they’re too fat or too thin, regardless of how much they actually weigh, a study found. Teens who perceived themselves,” I like that word, perceived themselves “at either weight, extreme, very fat or really skinny, were more than twice as likely as normal weight teens to attempt to think about suicide.” And this was a study based on a survey in 2001 involving 13,000 students in grades nine through 12, and this just appeared in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

So, do you see how a person’s understanding, how they see and how they view life has such an impact on the choices that they make and how they live their lives? Now guys, we are a culture desperately in need of wisdom.

Now the final example that I want to share with you comes from the New Testament in Matthew chapter six. So, if you have your Bibles turn to Matthew six, and I’m going to read some scripture from the Sermon on the Mount that you’re all familiar with. But it’s the second place where Jesus uses this language about the Matthew chapter six, starting in verse 19 (Matthew 6:19-24).

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal for where your treasure is there, your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness. No one can serve two masters for he will hate the one and love the other. He’ll be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Now many people see this as a place where Jesus condemns money and material wealth, but in actuality it’s not really so. I just read, in fact I thought I had it with me, Randy Alcorn in his book, Money, Wealth and Eternity, makes a really good analysis of this as he talks about what Christ was really trying to say here.

And he makes the point says, Jesus doesn’t say thou shall not, which is a command. This is a wisdom issue. And he makes the comment, he says, you know, it’s not so much that he doesn’t have an investment mentality. He does, he’s just saying, you know, invest in the right things.

You know, I think he’s telling us that we have the opportunity to impact our eternal well-being based on how we choose to invest our lives and resources here. And let me just say this, I would make the further contention that there is a very important underlying teaching regarding our perspective on time that, in other words, I think one of the things Jesus is telling us, that our perspective on time ultimately impacts what we treasure. Now you think about this, guys, if this earthly life is all there is, then I will treasure the earthly possessions of this life and I will rage against death. Because if you think about it, death takes away all that I have here on this earth, it takes it away. But if I see life in light of eternity, that my life on this earth is really nothing more than a short journey to that celestial city, if that’s my perspective, if that’s my understanding of this earthly life, then what I treasure and what I invest in will not be the temporal treasures of this life. In other words, it won’t consume me as it does so many people.

Ron Blue made a great quote on this and it’s very simple, but in one sense, very profound quote. He says, “the longer term our perspective, the better choices we’ll make today.” Think about that. “The longer term our perspective, the better the choices we’ll make today.”

Do you know why teenagers make such poor choices? I’m not saying all teenagers, but just in general, you know what, their perspective is about 24 hours. All they can think about is what are they going to do the next 24 hours and they make decisions based on what’s going to please me now. And inevitably it leads to poor choices.

C.S. Lewis, I think said it best. He said, “If you read history, you’ll find out that the Christians who did most for this present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”

So where does this leave us guys? Let’s go back to wisdom. The ability to see, it starts there. The inclination to choose is, is what ultimate wisdom is about, which we’ll talk about next week. I want to go back to Charles Bridge’s definition; to be able to see things as they really are. In other words, to not have false ideas and not as they appear to be. He’s talking about having an accurate perception of reality; to not live with false ideas, as Pascal said, to have understanding, to make sure our perspective is rooted and anchored in the truth. And as Christians, what we’re talking about is looking at life through the lens of God’s word. This is critical, if my eye is clear and my life will be full of light. Psalm 119:105 says, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Listen to what David says in Psalm 19:7-8. He says, the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple, the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart, the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

And then over in Psalm 119:97-100, it says, oh, how I love Your law. It is my meditation all the day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers for Your testimonies are my meditation. And this is really good. I understand more than the aged.

You know, older people do seem to have more wisdom than younger people and even if they’re not Christians, it’s generally because they got a lot of experience. They’ve learned a lot of things the hard way. They’ve seen a lot. But it says here, I understand more than the aged because I have observed Your precepts.

And then Jeremiah 23:29, it says, His word is like a hammer that shatters rock. It shatters what is false. Those false ideas, those false beliefs about life. So at the heart of wisdom is the fact that our perspective, our eyes, as Jesus calls it, our perception of reality, needs to be anchored in God’s truth.

Charles Bridges says, as I conclude, he says, “this habit of living in the element of scripture is invaluable. To be filled from this divine treasury, to have large sections of the word passing through my mind enables us to grasp it more firmly and apply it to our lives. To benefit fully from this, we must feed on God’s word on our own. We may read the scriptures with other people in church, but in order to really search God’s word, we must be alone with Him.”

He goes on to say that “the greatest harm has come to the church and to God’s people because of a neglect of His Word.” And then he says this, listen to this, “all fundamental falsehood in our lives can be traced to this neglect.”

So, I would like to just end this where we began, guys, as we look out upon the landscape of life, I think every single one of us needs to ask ourselves, are my ideas about God, about life, about manhood, about living a successful life, about material wealth, about love, about relationships? Are my ideas rooted in falsehood in any way or in ignorance? Because if my ideas and perspective, if you think about it, have been shaped by this culture, by the media, if all of my ideas of life have been shaped by them then, then probably we do have false ideas. We do have that darkness in our lives. But hopefully as we leave this morning, we see how crucial it is that we see these, all of these, these components of life through the lens of God’s truth. For if we’re going to be men who walk in wisdom, it is critical that we see life through the lens of truth.

Let me close in prayer.

Lord, we too truly need the lens of truth in our lives. We need to see all of life through Your light. Father, help us to gain that true knowledge and understanding that we need to make good choices, to make good decisions. I pray that we would all recognize this morning, our need for Your word in our lives, that in this fast-paced, frenetic world, it’s so easy to neglect Your word, and yet it’s light to our lives. It’s a lamp to our feet. Again, we acknowledge just we are needy men, and we need You. And I pray as we continue to embark on this search for wisdom that it would truly impact our lives. We thank You for this time together. In Christ’s name, Amen.


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