Proverbs 1:1-7 New International Version (NIV)
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to those who are simple,[a]
knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—
6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.[b]
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools[c] despise wisdom and instruction.
I am excited to dive into the book of proverbs with you this morning. As we look at the book of Proverbs, a great danger is to see it as a “codex” of rules. In other words, if I can apply these principles to my life, I will have the "good" life. The problem is that is not the way that Proverbs is designed to be read and applied, and it will frustrate you and confuse you more than anything.
For one thing, some Proverbs directly contradict each other. A great example of this is Proverbs 26:4-5. It says:
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
If these are codified rules, then which do we follow? The point is that they are not. These are thought exercises and the application of the life of the "right" person. Proverbs is concerned with our hearts and our motives more than our actions. The whole Bible is far more concerned with our heart-motives because good things can be done with real ill intent and that reaps devastating results.
So, we start this morning with this idea of wisdom, and the beginning of it being fear of the Lord. So let's look at this. Proverbs states that the fear of the God, or the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom. Why? Well let’s start with
1. Why begin with God?
Why is God the foundation of wisdom? Proverbs is showing us that our relationship with God is the foundation of our thinking. This idea is applied to the believer as well as the unbeliever. What you believe about God will inevitably directs every thought that you have. The reality is that a leap of faith is essentially the foundation of your life, and you cannot change that. You might think that I have an objective view of the world, and I have based my life on practical thinking and observation. However, at a foundational level, at the level where it matters most, you have prefaced your life on unprovable assumptions.
For example, even the idea that everything in this world has a natural cause, that there is no God is a statement of faith. You cannot prove it, and so your "scientific" world view is a faith world view and will colour the way you see the world. Brian Keating, author of the book Losing the Nobel prize cracks open this reality showing how modern science refuses to acknowledge its presuppositions. It is blind to it and so because of this will make wild unsubstantiated claims of the universe and call them fact. The reality is that everyone is fundamentally basing their lives upon leaps of faith. Proverbs claims that God as a foundational presupposition is the start of wisdom and knowledge. The modern scientific method and subsequence age of discovery is a testimony of this. The dirty little secret of the modern scientific age is that its heritage and is base assumptions are all found with the bible.
We would not have the scientific method without Francis Bacon (a devout Christian). Who was able to make his discoveries because of Erasmus (a theologian/philosopher). Who ultimately was influenced by Augustine (a church Father). The simple lesson is this; everyone has to base their life upon a leap of faith. The application for us in the church today is that God cannot be an addition to our life, he has to become our foundation. Fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom, meaning that until your life is founded upon this reality, you are not moving towards wisdom. You may be moving in multiple ways simply because God is not the foundation of your life; He is a "nice to have."
All this leads us nicely to our next point.
2. Why Fear?
I mean, the writer of the Proverbs could have used love, enjoyment, worship. Why does he use fear? Well, it is a descriptor of our passion for the Lord throughout the Bible.
Deuteronomy 6:24 - "So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.
Psalm 112:1 - Praise the LORD! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments.
Proverbs 9:10 - The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding
To name just a few. This idea becomes a defining marker of those who are righteous. The question remains why "fear"?
Now, in answering this, I have to give credit to Tim Keller and his book Counterfeit God. It has helped me more than anything else to put the puzzle together regarding all this. As he makes the argument that what we fear is connected to what we love. Or to put it another way, what we fear losing most we secretly worship or love most. I'll explain it this way; no one likes being humiliated; however, if you are terrified of being humiliated, you are paralyzed with fear over what people think about you. You are probably worshiping your image. Or another example is money, money is a good thing, however, if we are paralyzed by the fear or not having enough, or losing it, we might secretly be worshiping it. These things can become our meaning. The Bible makes an emphasis on fearing God because it is connecting it to our need to have God above every desire.
Let me put it like this; we should fear losing God more than anything else. Our desire should be in Him more so that our fear of losing Him is more significant than all of our other passions. For this reason, in the Ten Commandments, the First Commandment is to worship God and have no other idols. The implication is that if we do not have God as our first love, we will put something else there to replace Him. As Tim Keller puts it,
"An idol is anything more important to you than God. Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God. Anything you seek to give you what only God can give. Anything that is so central and essential to your life, that should lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living."
John Calvin states that "the human heart is a forge of idols." The implication of all this is that we all, even here in this church have other things (good things) in our lives that we are looking to fulfil us, to make us happy, to "save us" other than God. By implication, we fear the loss of that thing more than we fear losing God. Proverbs is calling us for God to be the foundation of our lives. Proverbs is calling us to love God so intensely that we fear losing Him more than anything else in this world. Now how do we apply this? Well, that will be answered in our final question;
3. Why this produces righteousness?
The first six verses that we read this morning are a beautiful blend of received "goodness/wisdom" and applied "goodness/wisdom." In other words, the reader must do and things that the reader must receive. He must apply himself/herself, however, they must also receive in order to apply. This is deeply profound, especially when it comes to wise and righteous living.
All wisdom and learning comes from effort. People can have a disposition for learning, but that does not make them intelligent. Instead, real intelligence comes from someone putting in the hard work of scholarship, of reading the information and studying and learning. All this takes practice and immense effort. The danger is when someone who is intelligent gets enamoured with their intelligence and therefore thinks that they are now an expert in all things. Not only does this make them annoying and arrogant, but it also destroys their capacity to learn. One of the most significant obstacles to wisdom and knowledge is the assumption that you already know. Socrates explains this in Plato's book, the "Apology of Socrates." Socrates in the story has been accused of arrogance and leading the youth astray. So, Socrates recounts his journey to wisdom, stating that he was told by the Oracle that, "no man born is wiser than Socrates." This perplexed Socrates as he knew his lack of knowledge. So, he journeys to all the intellectual centers and asks that they teach them all that they know, to which they all agree. However, once they had finished teaching him all that was to be learned in their field, he asks them is that it? To which each area of study replies, there is nothing more than their field of study. To which Socrates would reply "therefore, I knew myself wiser as I lacked knowledge." The implication of this is that the key to wisdom is the desire to learn. The desire to learn comes from humility of knowing that you lack knowledge.
The fear of the Lord, therefore, is a perfect place to be if you want to grow in wisdom and knowledge. Because by implication, it acknowledges that you have a lack; you are not God. There is a beautiful blend of effort and humility placed together in these verses. All this comes together in the fear of the Lord. The Book of Proverbs is teaching us that what we place as the foundation of our lives will drive us to its destiny. The Bible teaches us that we are made for God. Therefore, if we want to live according to our design potential, we should build our lives on the very person we designed to live for; that being God.
The application is, well, how do we do this? All I can say is that the whole of Scripture is a call for humanity to do this, not on their merit but by faith in the salvation of God. I believe we don't fear God because we don't love Him. And we don't love Him because we don't know who He is and what He has done for us. We tend to live this life as if somehow God owes us. We see ourselves far more noble than we are and God far less impressive than He truly is. Because of this mentality, we don't seek God. We use Him. He serves our needs rather than us trying to serve His needs. I believe this is because we don't perceive the depts of the debt we owe Him.
The cross stands as an eternal exposition of our state and His love! Our state is that we owe a debt we could never pay. His love is that sin itself could not hold Him back. He gave His only Son to a world that hated Him! He loved me while I hated Him! There, and only there, will we start to love Him in a way that we fear losing Him. It is when our debt (our need) is exposed to us, that our heart is broken and we see Him for who He is; the one who made us, and the one who died for us! Church, don't just have God as an "add on" to your life; let the cross show you that He is the very foundation of it! There, and only there, is the beginning of wisdom.