Sunday’s Sermon Today: Wise Men Say Part I (Proverbs)

When I think of wisdom, I think of old men with beards like Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books (or movies). Consider the wisdom he shared with Frodo, when Frodo was wishing that the Ring would never have fallen to him to deal with.

Gandalf says: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”

It’s not earth-shattering but it’s pretty wise. We all have to do the best we can with the time we can, and if we’re looking, we’ll recognize that there is more going on in our lives than we can see immediately in front of our noses.

While Gandalf is wise (he’s even called the Wise!), I find that more often than not, from a fictional character perspective, I resort to a much older character, a little whiskered character (not Mr. Miyagi!) who hails from Dagobah, is green all over… you guessed it, Yoda.

Why in the world would a little, green, Muppet-like guy make my top two fiction characters? Shouldn’t Aslan be on there (his only good one that comes instantly to mind is one about how the White Witch didn’t know the oldest magic)? Or… seriously, who can beat Yoda?

The top four Yodaisms as they relate to Christianity are as follows:

Yodaism #1: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Man, is that true, or what? So much of what we see and hear all around us sinks into our subconscious and becomes how we think we should operate. But more often than not, it’s counterproductive to who God wants us to be.

Yodaism #2: “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack.” Okay, so technically, that’s not absolutely helpful on a one-to-one ratio, but if we pull back the covers a little, we can see that people of the light (Jedis carry light(sabers); Christians have the light of Jesus in them) will use their efforts and energy for helping others, for growing, never for their own, personal satisfaction.

Yodaism #3: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Okay, does this one merit any sort of explanation? It’s right up there with “hurt people hurt people” (Bill Cosby). We act out of our fear, and we respond with anger which leads to a deeper anger (or hate) and then we cause suffering when we’re angry.

But my alltime favorite? Yodaism #4: “Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.” [You can check out the clip here, but you need to see Yoda raise the X-wing to get the full effect.] We are either all in when it comes to following God or we’re not. Of course, we’re going to make mistakes, but we’re either following God earnestly or we’re not following God. We can’t try to follow God, ultimately, even when we follow God, we’ll fall short. If we only try to follow God, then we’re not completely bought in!

The truth is that the Bible is full of pithy sayings, statements that are God-inspired for our edification, for our understanding of how God works. And nowhere are they presented more abundantly, more thickly, than in the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament.

The prologue states that these words of wisdom are presented “For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young. Let the wise hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:2-7).

The book focuses in on this, that a) all people need wisdom, and b) that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Most people would probably agree that there’s something to be said for wisdom, especially if we can agree to distinguish between knowledge (academic “smarts”) and intelligence (the application of one’s knowledge to make good decisions). But what is the “fear of the Lord?”

The fear of the Lord is understood to be a fear of “awe” or a fear that one has of offending one loves or respects. It’s not, C.S. Lewis said, the fear we’d have if we found ourselves in the living room with a tiger! It’s not quake-in-your-boots, worry-you-did-something-wrong fear, but instead aimed at being better a person than you might be otherwise. So let’s consider some of the pithy wisdoms that King Solomon shared in his writings about the place where life and the love of God intersect, and see if we can’t grow in wisdom ourselves!

Pretty quickly, Solomon lays out the fact that that what we are about to read and study isn’t necessarily going to be what we’re expecting: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 2:5-8). What we see, or what we think we see, might not always be what God sees. We know that David was chosen as the king when God looked at the inside rather than the outside, but how often have we really considered that what we think is wise might in fact be counterintuitive to what God wants or thinks is important. If we can’t recognize that this is pretty crazy… it’s crazy.

So what is God looking for? What exactly does God think is important. In Proverbs 2:9-10, Solomon writes “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” The first half encourages us to consider our very selves as an offering to God in the same way that the Israelites were called to tithe the first ten percent of their income, whether it was crops or sheep or it’s our salary right now. Again, most economists would probably tell you it’s counterintuitive to give away ten percent to make more, to have enough, but that’s exactly what Solomon tells us, and what many folks who tithe regularly have discovered.

Solomon also puts a strong emphasis on what a person says… or doesn’t say. He tells us that “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin” (Proverbs 10:8). For Solomon, basically anyone who isn’t wise is a fool… and he “pities the fool!” [Sorry, that was Mr. T, not Solomon.] He says it would be “better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12), which seems to be pitting one foolishness against another, but he takes it a step further and says that, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates corrected is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). In Job, which was written by someone who saw the world much like Solomon did, it says “But a stupid person will get understanding, when a wild ass is born human.”

Maybe stupid is as stupid does (Forrest Gump).

But it seems that stupid and fool and wisdom-lessness are all tied up together for Solomon. He writes “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). You’ve probably heard that one, reminding us that when we get too big for our britches, we tend to trip over them. But have you heard this one?

“Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-28). Solomon probably knew a thing or two about that with the harem he had, or maybe he was writing about his own father, David, who nearly threw it all the way when he went after Bathsheba.

Either way, Solomon tended to turn to familial relationships when he wasn’t going after fools. “A foolish son is his father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping” (Proverbs 19:13). Now, Solomon wrote that, not me! But isn’t that a perfect image? Picture the faucet in your house: you’ve had one now or before, that drip… drip… drip… It wears on you if you can hear it but you can’t fix it. Isn’t it like that with a spouse, or a friend, or someone at work who only seeks to create problems? [Solomon would also write that it would be “better to live in a desert than a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife” (Proverbs 21:19). That’s some dry heat…]

Not all of the Proverbs are negative though.  Solomon wrote that”a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Let that sink in for a minute. In a world where you “friend” someone on Facebook to add them to your list, how many people are true friends? How many people do you know who love you all of the time? I had a saying in college that went something like this: I’d say I had a few friends but lots of acquaintances. My Facebook page looks like that still!

But the other half of the Proverb holds true: I have a few brothers even though I am the only son of my mother and father. There are men who have risen up and walked parts of my life with me that were dark and those men became the brothers I never had (you know who you are). The truth is that Solomon saw some dark times, saw people see him as the king and want to use that relationship, and ultimately, he recognized that sometimes there are people who rise above the fray.

So I’ll leave you with this last Proverb. It’s not the last one in the book, and I’ve failed to mention most of them, but it’s one that leaves us with homework.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Are you training your children? Are you telling them how much God loves them? Are you reading the Bible with them everyday? Are you sharing with them how important church is and what it means to follow Jesus?

Solomon didn’t always stay on the straight and narrow, but his place in the archives stands because when push came to shove, he chose wisdom… and his parents raised him right.

No pressure. Just consider, where do you get your guidance from, and are you passing it along?

If you agree, leave the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in the space below. Thanks!

This sermon is for the 9 a.m. worship of The Stand that currently meets in Blandford United Methodist Church on South Crater Road in Petersburg, Va. Feel free to join us if you can!

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About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at ChristianCinema.com, Cinapse.co, and the brand new ScreenFish.net.
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