The Search For Wisdom – Part 1

This series that we’re going to start this morning, I think is one of the most important series that I have taught in a long time and it’s a four-week series that we’re going to be doing on what I have titled “The Search for Wisdom”. And I’ve been studying this, the issue of wisdom in the Scripture and reading books for years now and I’ve also recently read a commentary that was written back in the 1850s by Charles Bridges. It’s a commentary on the book of Proverbs, also a book by Leroy Eims called Wisdom from Above. And then a very, very good commentary on Proverbs by Charles Phillips but probably most significantly, just recently, the material that has impacted me the most and I’ll probably lean on a good bit is a series of sermons done by Dr. Tim Keller. But I’ve taken all of this and kind of synthesized it and put it into a four-week series on wisdom and where I’d like to start this morning is to read three verses from the book of Ephesians, Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, and listen to these words. He shares with them what he’s praying for them. And starting at verse 17, it says that:

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and a revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you’ll know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe?

Now, these are some as a great prayer to pray for your children, to pray even for yourself. And you know, if you think about it, Paul, who had been a Pharisee, was obviously very familiar with the book of Proverbs. And so he understood the importance of wisdom. Listen to these words from Proverbs chapter three, beginning with the 13th verse (Proverbs 3:13).

How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding for its profit is better than the profit of silver and its gain than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels and nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand and in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. And happy are all who hold her fast.

And if you think about if this is true, is there anything more important than life that we should be pursuing? Because as we go through this, I believe that we will all conclude that wisdom has such great value because of its impact on our wellbeing and on the quality of our lives and our relationships. And obviously, from those words in Proverbs, it is of much greater value than money or wealth or anything else that we would desire in this life. And yet, unfortunately, I must say that modern man has lost a love of wisdom and understanding, and instead seems to set his mind in pursuits on worthless things. I love these words from T.S. Elliot from his poem, “Chorus from the Rock”. He says, “Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we’ve lost in information? The cycles of heaven in 20 centuries bring us farther from God and nearer to the dust.”

In other words, we all seem to fill our minds with information and knowledge and yet lack wisdom. It’s like Drayton Nabors, our current chief justice, shared. In the world of business and politics, he says, there are plenty of people who are talented and smart and knowledgeable but are fools. He calls them educated fools. And you see so many of them that you read about in the papers today. They’re bankrupting their companies. They face jail time. They’re ruining their lives, they’re ruining their families. And it makes me think of some of Paul’s last words in second Timothy chapter three, verse seven (II Timothy 3:7). As you recall, this is Paul’s last letter. As you read it, he knows he’s dying or will be executed soon. And he says, one of the problems we face is we’re always learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.

Now, today, most people in our community, at least particularly here in the south, as we live our lives, as we raise our children, as we pursue careers, I think we’ve come to the conclusion that, that the key to life is that we make good moral decisions. And we seem to think that the ultimate outcome of our of our lives depends on the moral choices that we make. And really, if you think about it, this is partially true cause bad moral choices can truly wreck your life. But as Tim Keller points out, most of the choices in the decisions that we make each day are not moral choices. But it’s these same decisions that ultimately shape our lives. Think about these morally neutral issues that are so huge. For instance, who I marry, the career choice I make, considering making a career change. What a huge decision that is. Dealing with your teenager. Should I confront this person at work? Should I not? Should I take this risk? The financial decisions we have to make. How do I spend my time? What are my priorities? You know, this list is endless. And hopefully we’ll see that this is where wisdom comes in. It’s not a moral choice, it’s a wisdom issue.

Now, I’m going to give you two examples. One from Tim Keller, another one from Andy Stanley.

Keller says, “Let’s assume that you know a family down the street that lives in just utter poverty, and you want to help them get out of poverty. And you realize this is a very good and noble desire. He says, you can find a good ethical way to help them, maybe just drop a bunch of money in their lap, but in the process, you might possibly ruin their lives, if all you do is give them money.” He said, “This could very easily happen if we do not have an understanding of the complexities and root problems of poverty.”

In other words, he’s saying, you need wisdom to help people get out of poverty. Andy Stanley, on the other hand, contends that most marital infidelity is a result of morally neutral choices that lead us to the ultimate act.

He says, “Imagine that you’re at work and things aren’t going well in your marriage and you and your wife are going through a dry season, and you decide, you’re invited to go to lunch with an attractive single woman. And you reason, there’s nothing wrong with going to lunch. There’s nothing morally wrong with making that decision. And then several weeks later, you’re working late on a special project, and you’re finished and all of a sudden, the two of you are there at work and you say, well, let’s go get a bite to eat. There’s nothing wrong with going to dinner. And then over dinner, you begin to share the struggles of your marriage. Again, nothing wrong with that, with sharing with somebody what’s going on with your marriage.” But Stanley says, “We shouldn’t be asking, is this right or wrong? He says, what we should be asking, is this wise, because you can see where the decisions made, under the optic of there’s nothing wrong, you can see where it possibly can lead.” And I see so many men wreck their lives and completely waste their lives because they base their life and their lifestyle on this one basic premise. There’s nothing in the Bible that says, I can’t do this. There’s nothing wrong with this. And I think so easily people squander their lives because of a lack of wisdom in making decisions and choices.

So, this morning we just want to start by asking the question, what is wisdom? And I think there’s several words or synonyms that are used in Proverbs, which can help us give us some degree of perspective as we pursue a definition. There’s, in the first chapter, you see the word insight or discernment. It’s a word that’s used almost exclusively in the Old Testament. It’s a Hebrew word binah, which means knowing how things really work. And then in chapter one of Proverbs, the fourth verse (Proverbs 1:4), there’s this word prudence, and it means to notice little distinctions. It’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes when he goes into a room where a crime’s taken place, he goes into the room, we see nothing, but he sees these little distinctions. Consequently, he knows what really happened, where we are clueless. In one sense, wisdom therefore is knowing how things really happen in the world, how things really work in this life.

Now, what I want to do is share with you from three very wise men who give their thoughts or definitions of wisdom. One comes from Charles Bridges almost 150 years ago. He says, “Wisdom is looking and seeing things as they really are and not as they appear to be.” In other words, talking about how we see reality, having an accurate perception of reality. Then Gerhard von Rad, who many believe wrote one of the greatest scholarly works ever on the book of Proverbs, says this, “wisdom is becoming competent in regard to the realities of life.” In other words, knowing how things really work, knowing things, how things happen, and then knowing what to do about it.

But probably my favorite definition is given to us by J.I. Packer in his classic work, Knowing God, where he says, “it is the ability to see an inclination to choose the best and highest goals in life, as well as the surest means of attaining them.” And so, what I’ll plan on doing is these next few sessions is to focus on this, the ability to see, and the inclination to choose. I think this is very important to note because we erroneously believe wisdom is nothing more than seeing and understanding life and its complexities. But what we fail to understand is that wise people live out their wisdom, they live wisely.

So, the balance of our time this morning, and even next week, I want to spend a few minutes talking about the ability to see. You know, the Bible tells us that God designed life according to wisdom and therefore there is a pattern or fabric to all of reality. And it’s the wisdom we acquire that enables us to perceive that pattern and live in accordance with it or live in harmony with it. Now, think about this for a minute. In all of life, in every area, there’s a fabric or pattern that is woven into reality and it determines how things work. It determines how life works. You see this in the physical realm. You think about the laws of aerodynamics. I have no clue how a plane gets off the ground, but it does because, and it does by obeying the reality of this law. The problem is if you disregard the reality of the law, it’ll crash. But this is also true in relationships. There’s a fabric or pattern to relationships and if you don’t live in accordance to that pattern, your relationships will crash. And unfortunately, what modern people fail to see is there is a fabric or pattern to God’s spiritual reality, which impacts the heart and the soul and the conscience. And if we don’t live in accordance with that pattern, we’ll crash spiritually.

And it’s important to understand that foolishness, on the other hand, is going against the pattern that God designed and placed into life. And so a significant part of wisdom is to discern that pattern, that ability to see that pattern. Now if you go back to Ephesians chapter one in verse 17 and 18 (Ephesians 1:17-18), listen to the some of the language that’s used.

It says that He may give you a spirit of wisdom and a revelation. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened. You know, this is language regarding the ability to see into the spiritual realm, not to be good moral people, but to be able to see into the spiritual realm.

You think about it, in the physical world, we need three things to see. We need an object to look at. We need the ability to see, we need to have vision or eyesight. But then you need a third thing to see. You have to have light. And this is also true in the spiritual realm. You need that object first of all. And that object is spiritual truth. It’s that pattern, that fabric of reality. And then you also need the ability to see, and that’s why we have a mind and a heart and a soul. We have the ability to perceive the spiritual reality, but then you have to have light. You have to have spiritual light. And we shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus comes along and says, I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.

He then goes on and says, or we read in the first chapter of the book of John the ninth verse, (John 1:9), he says, there was the true light, talking about Jesus, which coming into the world enlightens every man. And then John chapter 12 (John 12), obviously in the Book of John, you see this theme of light. It says, Jesus said to them, for a little while longer, the light He’s referring to, Himself, is among you. Walk while you have the light so that darkness will not overtake you. He who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. When He talks about walking in the darkness, He’s not talking about spiritual darkness.

And Proverbs 4:19 talks about how foolish people stumble in the darkness and they do not know over what they stumble. And I see this all the time. Men and women who have made poor choices and their lives turn out very badly and they have no, no idea why they can’t put their finger on it. And they get angry and they don’t know why. They ask, why is this happening to me? And they have no idea what to do. And one of the reasons is because if you think about it, think about the physical realm, again, darkness distorts reality. I know I find this has happened to me several times when I’m with my wife and we’re traveling and we’re in a hotel room and, and it’s dark in the room. I get up to go to the restroom in the middle of the night and don’t turn the light on so I don’t disturb her. And I come back thinking I know where to go and the next thing I know I’m walking into a closet, not getting back into the bed.

And that’s because when you’re in the dark, it distorts what’s real. And you think about how this also works out in the spiritual realm. Furthermore, another illustration I use a lot again in my own life is that in our bedroom at home, when you walk in, you flip on an overhead light and the light comes on and you can see everything regardless of how dark it is. But in the mornings when I’m getting dressed, I sometimes will use, or put on dark blue socks or black socks. I’ll go over and I pull socks drawer out and I look at them and I can’t tell the difference. So, I have to go over to my bedside light and turn it on and stick the socks under there because then and only then can I distinguish between the dark blue socks and the black socks.

And therefore, in other words, we need light to make distinctions, to distinguish between what is wise and what is foolish, what is important, what is trivial. And if you’ll remember earlier we were talking about prudence, how Sherlock Holmes can see those little distinctions. And by doing that, he knows what is really going on. And this is what light does for us. And Christ is that spiritual light that allows us and gives us that ability to see.

I love the words of C.S. Lewis. These are posted on my website, the Center for Executive Leadership website. And this is a quote. He says, “I believe in God as I believe in the Son,” and its capital S-O-N. And he’s referring to Jesus even though he is using the Son as a metaphor,

“I believe in God as I believe in the Son, not only because I see it, but because by it I can see everything else.”

Now, I know that there are many of you in the audience this morning who have come to the conclusion that the wisdom train has left the station and you weren’t on it. But there is a solution, and this is what we’ll be exploring over the next few weeks. When you read the Proverbs, you often see wisdom speaking to us as a person. I mean, like Proverbs eight 12 (Proverbs 8:12), also verses 14 through 17 (Proverbs 8:14-17), wisdom is personified.

And the question that I would leave you with this morning, what if the wisdom of God is someone you can know and love? And if you get into a relationship with that person, it’ll make you wise.

This in fact, is the New Testament message, and that person is Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate guide in life. He is, as the scripture calls Him, that wonderful counselor. He is the light of the world, and He came into the world to enlighten every man and every woman who desires it and yearns for it.

Let us pray. Lord, we do thank You that You are not only a God who loves us, but that a God who gives us light. And that through that light we are able to see. I pray that through our time together, that You might enlighten us to Your truth, that You might enlighten us, so that we might be men who walk in wisdom, and that as we go through life, that we can make wise choices and wise decisions. We thank You in Christ’s name. Amen.


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