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The Road Less Traveled: The Gospel According to Proverbs

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Proverbs 1:1–7

Imagine you are a 7-year-old child who badly wants a bicycle. I come along and offer you a choice. I will give you $150 right now, which is just enough to purchase the bicycle that you want, or I will give you $5 per week for an entire year. Which will you choose?
Notice the choice that is being offered: instant gratification vs. longer-term profit. The majority of children could be relied upon to choose instant gratification. They lack the maturity and ability to analyze the results of the choice being offered them. They can accept $150 and get a bicycle instantly and have no money left over, or they can accept the opportunity to wait 30 weeks, get a bicycle, and then continue to get paid $5 per week for 22 more weeks for a total gain of $260.
Life offers us many similar choices that boil down to instant gratification vs. long-term gain. But there is different terminology to describe these decision points. They can also be looked at in terms of a choice between folly and wisdom.
In the introduction of his book, the writer of Proverbs deals with the ultimate choice that each individual faces of folly vs. wisdom. The Sage, as he is often called, presents a carefully crafted appeal to choose wisdom to all who will listen. Let us examine together his three-pronged approach.

I. The Purpose of the Book – To encourage people to live according to God’s view of life (Prv 1:1–3)

A. Reinforced by the example of the author (Prv 1:1; 1 Kings 3:5–12)

1. God’s unusual offer (1 Kings 3:5)

Explanation: While this offer to Solomon may have been unusual, God offers His wisdom for living to all people (Rev 21:6; 22:17)

2. Solomon’s humble request (1 Kings 3:7–9)

Explanation: Notice how Solomon talks to God here. He addresses God by his covenant name, “Yahweh.” His response exhibits the truth of Proverbs 1:7.
Quotation: David Hubbard and Lloyd Ogilvie write in their commentary on Proverbs, “Fear is best understood as reverent obedience. Although it includes worship, it does not end there. It radiates out from our adoration and devotion to our everyday conduct that sees each moment as the Lord’s time, each relationship as the Lord’s opportunity, each duty as the Lord’s command, and each blessing as the Lord’s gift. It is a new way of looking at life and seeing what it is meant to be when viewed from God’s perspective.”

B. Stated through the words of the author (Prv 1:2–3)

1. To help us know wisdom (Prv 1:2)

Explanation: To possess wisdom, you must see and understand the world as God sees it. If you see things as God sees them, then you are seeing things as they really are. We desperately need to see the world through the eyes of the creator. This is to live according to reality.
Explanation: Our author says his goal is for his readers to “know” wisdom. The word used for knowing here is a word that means knowledge that is experienced or realized. Therefore, the knowledge of wisdom being sought for his readers is not a mere intellectual assent to a certain list of facts.
Argumentation: We live in a world of so many voices today. There is a cacophony of sound. Most of those voices are shouting messages of folly rather than wisdom. A Greek philosopher, Zeno of Citium––who founded the Stoics––is credited with saying “Young man, Nature gave us one tongue but two ears so that we may listen twice as much as we speak.” I’m not a proponent of Stoic philosophy, but based on Scripture, Zeno’s proverb seems to highlight an important truth (Prv 10:19; Ecc 5:2–3, 7).

2. To help us practice wisdom (Prv 1:3)

Explanation: Practicing wisdom results in a life characterized by righteousness (KJV=justice), justice (KJV=judgment), and integrity (KJV=equity).
Application: This shows that wisdom is not only about a pure relationship with God, as though a Christian is designed to be a monk who hides away from the world to maintain his holiness by engaging only in bible study and prayer. Wisdom is a way of living that leads to an overhaul of how we interact with others in the world (Ex 20:12–17; Psa 34:11–15; Phil 2:2–7). Since this does not come natural to us, the author of Proverbs calls this the “instruction” of wisdom. Instruction here has a root idea of chastisement. God instills wisdom in us as we submit to his program of admonition and correction (Prv 3:12; Heb 12:6).

II. The Audience of the Book – Those who are willing to live according to God’s view of life (Prv 1:4–6)

A. The simple may obtain wisdom by obeying this book (Prv 1:4)

1. In his current state, the simple person is mentally gullible (i.e. easily led, silly, naïve) (Prv 1:4; 14:15; 22:3)

Explanation: So often these are young people who simply have not lived long enough to have all the experiences of life. This person is not the fool or the mocker of later on in Proverbs. While the fool and the mocker are at least partially set in their ways and locked onto the path of foolishness, the simple person is still teachable.
Explanation: The writer of Proverbs says that by listening to his teaching, the simple person can learn to shrewdly evaluate advice (Prv 15:5), circumstances (Prv 27:12), and experience (Prv 12:16) to gain wisdom that will produce a biblically successful life.

2. In his current state, the simple person is morally wayward because he acts on whatever false thought is currently gripping his mind (Prv 1:4, 32)

Explanation: The simple person needs to begin his journey to wisdom where the Sage is pointing him: to Christ. Now, I realize that the Sage uses the word wisdom and not Christ, but listen to what Paul tells the Corinthians when delivering a similar message (1 Cor 1:17–30).

B. The wise may increase in wisdom by obeying this book (Prv 1:5–6)

Exhortation: So that those who possess some elementary wisdom do not grow complacent and think that they have achieved all there is to achieve, the Sage makes it clear that he is addressing his words to the wise person as well as the simple one. The Bible supports this idea elsewhere as well (1 Cor 10:11–12)
Quotation: As Ray Ortlund says in his commentary on Proverbs, “Let’s be realistic about ourselves—as we age, it can be harder to stay fresh and expectant and moving forward on an upward trajectory of growth. It is easy to stall, it is easy to coast. We can get lazy. But let’s not die before we die! Fight for open-mindedness and honesty and discovery and newness of life. Stay humble and keep learning. The Apostle Paul did. Even in his final days, he wanted to keep reading and studying and learning (2 Timothy 4:6, 13). That’s how we can be a blessing to younger people too.”

1. Hearing involves paying careful attention to what is being said – the external hearing (Prv 1:5)

Explanation: The reason this is so important is that there is so much today competing for our attention. The wise man is one who has begun to understand how to tune out the world’s call to folly (this encompasses so many of the messages in the world today) and to concentrate carefully on God’s message of wisdom. This is the message that man needs to hear. This is the message that can truly benefit man.

2. Hearing can also involve careful application of what is being said – the internal hearing (Prv 1:5–6)

Application: It is not enough to mentally agree with the message being presented. If the message is true, and God’s message of wisdom is true, then the message cries out to be applied to our lives––to be acted upon. This is why Jesus often used the phrase, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Hearing that does not result in learning from and acting upon the message given is not hearing at all.

III. The Foundation of the Book – To identify the key to living according to God’s view of life (Prv 1:7)

A. The proper response to a person (Prv 1:7)

Explanation: What the fear of the Lord is not.
Quotation: Ray Ortlund: “It is not a cringing dread before the Lord. It is not a guilty ‘Oh no, here comes God. I’m in for it now.’”
Explanation: What the fear of the Lord is.
Quotation: Ray Ortlund: “The fear of the Lord is openness to him, eagerness to please him, humility to be instructed by him (Proverbs 15:33). The fear of the Lord is a willingness to turn from evil and change (Job 28:28). The fear of the Lord is surrender to his will (Genesis 22:12). The fear of the Lord is one way we love him (Deuteronomy 6:2, 5).”
Quotation: Charles Bridges defines the fear of the Lord as “that affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law.”
Quotation: Derek Kidner offers these comments on the fear of the Lord as the beginning of knowledge: “The beginning (i.e. the first and controlling principle, rather than a stage which one leaves behind; cf. Eccl. 12:13) is not merely a right method of thought but a right relation: a worshipping submission (fear) to the God of the covenant, who has revealed himself by name (the Lord, i.e. Yahweh: Exod. 3:13–15).”

B. A proper response to the appropriate person (Prv 1:7)

Explanation: Notice that our author refers to God here by his personal, covenant name. The name that he gives to his chosen people if they should inquire as to who sent their deliverer (Yahweh).
Quotation: C. S. Lewis wrote, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
Explanation: But we must keep in mind that this God who is “immeasurably superior” to us is the same God who in love sent his only begotten son to take the punishment for our sins. This is the Gospel According to Proverbs: the way of wisdom is having a relationship of “affectionate reverence” with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.
In July of 2022, Nick Bostic was driving in his car when he passed a house and noticed flames leaping from the front of the two-story structure. He slammed on his brakes, turned his car around and pulled into the driveway. Then he realized he’d left his phone at his home a few miles away and couldn’t dial 911.
Bostic, who was 25 years old, jumped out of his car and tried to flag down another driver, but the person didn’t stop. He wasn’t sure whether anyone was in the home, so he ran to the back of the house, found an unlocked door and rushed inside. All he saw was smoke.
“I shouted, ‘Anybody here? Get out! Get out! Fire!’ ” he said, recalling that he felt his eyes and nostrils stinging from the smoke in the early morning of July 10.
He didn’t hear a response, and he was about to leave, he said. Then he saw a teenager at the top of the stairs with some younger kids. Seionna Barrett, 18, was babysitting her three siblings and her sister’s friend while their parents were out on a date night playing darts. Seionna had smelled smoke and was frantically trying to wake up everyone to get them out of the house when Bostic busted through the back door.
Bostic said he hustled everyone outside — then Seionna told him the baby was missing. Bostic would soon learn she was referring to 6-year-old Kaylani, nicknamed “Baby K,” who was still in the burning house.
“I ran inside and looked under beds and closets, but I couldn’t find her,” he said. “But when I got to the stairs that led downstairs, I heard some faint crying.”
The staircase was full of smoke, and the heat seemed unbearable, he said, adding that he hesitated for a moment before plunging down the stairs.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to die here,’ ” he said.
But he held his breath and followed the crying in the darkness until he reached Kaylani and quickly scooped her up.
“I rolled her up in my arm like a football, then felt my way back up the stairs,” Bostic said. “It was extremely hot and smoky, and it was painful to breathe. The only light I could see was coming from the rooms upstairs. So I headed up there.”
He broke open a window with his right fist, tightly wrapped the girl around his left side and leaped two stories to the ground, landing on his right side, sparing the girl from the force of his fall, he said.
Bostic was sent by ambulance to a hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and first-degree burns on his buttocks, right ankle and right arm. His selflessness cost Bostic not only the pain and discomfort of his injuries, but also three days in the hospital.
Bostic’s analysis of the situation? "It was all worth it. I kept reminding myself what a small sacrifice. This temporary pain ... it's so worth it!"
Today folly is crying to you and offering instant gratification. Folly would have you believe that you can get rich quick, be free from all pain and discomfort, and have a problem free life. Folly seeks to attract you with lies, lies, and more lies.
Wisdom likewise reaches out to you. However, wisdom doesn’t sugar coat things. It gives you the unvarnished truth. Sure, there may be inconvenience or even pain along the way, but that only lasts for a while and is ultimately replaced by a world where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Jesus put our choice this way, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
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