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Building on the Fear of God

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I need wisdom. Where do I acquire wisdom? Last week we established that the first step towards wisdom, as well as the foundation for all wisdom, was the fear of God. You may still wonder where wise counsel can be acquired. “I understand that I need to fear God, but I want direction in the midst of my decisions. Where do I get that?” Today, I would like to offer a few places in which we can gain wisdom.
During my second year of seminary, I worked as a builder. Our part of building the home was roughing in all the exterior and interior walls. As we started a job, we would arrive at an empty lot with nothing but a concrete basement. We would start our framing by building the foundation for the rest of the house. We would make a border around the whole house with 2x10’s and then we would span the empty basement with joist. On top of these joist we would nail ¾ inch plywood. This became the foundation on which the rest of the house would be built.
That is like the fear of God. The first step towards wisdom and the foundation for acquiring all wisdom is the fear of God. But, what is built on top of that? What other sources do we have for wisdom?
Purpose Statement. Fearing God is the foundation for all wisdom. All other avenues for acquiring wisdom must be filtered through divine revelation.

Gain Wisdom Through Guided Observation

One of the methods by which we can acquire wisdom is through guided observation. I’ll explain in a moment why I include the idea of “guided.” There are a number of different passages in Proverbs that offer wisdom through this means, but let’s look at just two of them for sake of illustration.
Learn From the Ant. In chapter 6 of Proverbs, Solomon exhorts the sluggard to observe the ant “and be wise” ().
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. ()
Solomon is hoping that the sluggard goes and observes the ant, and in so doing avoids the destruction that comes with laziness and no work. “When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” ( ESV).
Learn from the Fool and Woman Folly. We find in a second example of wisdom acquired through observation. In this instance, the Father and son are observing a naïve young man who is walking through the streets.
For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. ( ESV)
This young man follows the impulses of his physical and visual desires and the Father and son observe the ramifications of his decisions. “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life” ().
Through the observation of each of these experiences, wise lessons were offered; specifically in these context that laziness will result in poverty and loss and that following after your sexual desires will result in your destruction.
Observation has its limits. Observing nature and observing others around you can result in a great deal of wisdom, but there is an important caveat we must consider. These observations must be filtered through divine revelation. Observation is not, in and of itself, an authoritative source for wisdom. There are limits to wisdom gained through observation.
The ant is given as an example in one specific context. We are not supposed to model our behavior after everything the ant does. This specific context and lesson were offered by a wise person to one who needed to learn that specific lesson. The wise person used the ant as an illustration to assist the sluggard in learning an important lesson.
Observations can be taken too far. And this is why I say that guided observation is useful in the acquiring of wisdom. There are potential dangers when we are left alone in our observations. Observations may be taken further than is helpful and as a result unwise conclusions may be drawn. It is true that you can observe that the hard work of the ant pays off, but you could also observe that forced labor seems appropriate and that those who are at the top should be served by those at the bottom. You might also observe from the ant that if another species or colony threaten your territory or food, you should kill them. Of course, if we were to do that, we would be drawing unhelpful, unbiblical, and unwise conclusions.
Negative outcomes don’t always mean wrong decision. If we were to draw conclusions based on observation alone, we could as well conclude at times that a certain decision was wrong based on its negative outcome.
Therefore, any potential wisdom that is drawn from observation must be filtered through divine revelation.

Gain Wisdom Through Heeding Instruction

From the Home. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” ( ESV). We are offered two primary realms in which to receive instruction. First, the home is the primary place for instruction. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” ( ESV). “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments” ( ESV).
Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. ( ESV)
There are many others that convey this same sentiment.[1]
From the Wise. The second realm in which we are to find wisdom is from the wise. “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you” ( ESV). So then, we are directed to acquire wisdom from the wise. But, who are the wise?
Often the older are considered wise. Age typically allows for more experiences and opportunities by which to gain wisdom. Therefore most cultures acknowledge that older people are likely more wise. This seems to be the assumption that Paul makes when he directs Titus to have the older men and women “teach what is good, and so train the young women” (). The older men were directed to “urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works” (). So then, typically we would like to assume that older people are wiser.
But, older doesn’t necessarily equal wiser. For instance, if one never comes to fear the Lord, they would never be able to offer godly wisdom. If someone never benefits from observations, experiences, and instruction throughout their life, they may have very little wisdom to offer.
We find an example of this in Job. The first two chapters of Job outline the horrible experiences he suffered. At the end of chapter two, three of his friends come to him to comfort him. Before we look any further and conclude they weren’t wise, let’s at least acknowledge the fact that they came to their friend in the midst of his pain and “sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was great” ( ESV).
Now moving beyond that amazing instance of care for Job, the next 29 chapters consists of a back and forth conversation between Job and his three friends. They offer their opinions as to why Job is going through such a horrible experience. He then justifies to them why he thinks they are wrong. It is not until chapter 32 that we find my point.
Apparently a fourth friend has been present throughout all this time. Elihu, the Buzite, responds in chapter 32.
"I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, 'Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.' But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right” ( ESV).
This young man, Elihu, rebukes Job for questioning and complaining against God (). He as well rebukes the three older men for their conduct and poor counsel towards Job. In the other three are commanded by God to offer sacrifices for their actions towards Job, and yet this young man is not in any way rebuked. My point being, age does not necessarily equate with greater wisdom. Who then is wise?
offers characteristics of a wise person. We are going to take a more thorough look into in a few weeks, but for now, let’s consider a cursory summary of the first few verses.
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3 yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4 if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding . . . 10 for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; ( ESV).
If you pursue a knowledge of Scripture, if you meditate on Scripture, if you pray for wisdom, “then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Ultimately “the Lord gives wisdom.” So then pursuing wisdom by pursuing a working and humble knowledge of Scripture will result in God granting wisdom, and “wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” ().
+ Time = a wise person. Studying Scripture takes time. Meditating on Scripture takes time. Seeking and searching . . . all take time. No specific time is established, but becoming wise takes time. This is why it is fair to assume that the older a person is, the wiser they are. We just add the caveat, that an older person who has consistently pursued godly wisdom in God’s Word is going to be wise.

Gain Wisdom Through Filtered Experience

Working hand in hand with both observation and instruction is wisdom acquired through experience. While there is some overlap in these areas, let’s take a moment to acknowledge two ways in which we can gain wisdom through experience.
Learn From Other’s Experiences. In chapter 24, Solomon directs our attention to the field of a sluggard hoping that we will learn from his negative experience.
I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. ( ESV).
is as well an example in which one can learn important life lessons through observation of another’s actions. The father directs his son’s attention to the naïve young man who is destroyed as he is drawn away by the foolish woman. His intent is that his sone will learn from the experience of the fool and avoid making the same mistakes.
There is a lot of benefit in learning from the experiences of others instead of having to suffer through those same negative experiences, but the reality is that we more often learn as we go through our own negative (and positive) experiences.
Learn From Personal Mistakes. By nature, I’m a pretty defensive person. I’d like to think that we all struggle with that to some degree and I’d also like to think that I’ve made strides in this particular area. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. I suppose I just want to feel better about my particular struggle.🙂 I’m sure this defensive nature is rooted in pride. I have a fairly high opinion of myself and I don’t like it if people point out where I’m wrong. This is compounded by one of my other struggles. I’m a people pleaser, so whenever anyone shows they are disappointed in me, I really struggle. Here’s where the rub comes in. I genuinely want to grow and develop and to do that I need to be able to receive criticism.
On one such occasion, I can recall one of our Sunday School teachers called me on a Saturday night. She was pretty emotional and asked if I could get someone to take their class the next morning because they were in a really bad place and didn’t think they could do it. I can vividly recall in this moment wanting to minister to this wonderful sister in Christ. The way I best knew how to care for her was to relieve her of any thought towards the responsibility of her class. I remember telling her, “absolutely, don’t worry about it at all. I’ll take care of it.” With that we ended our conversation, and I moved on to find a teacher to fill the spot. A week or so later her husband talked with me and asked why I hadn’t asked his wife what was wrong after she called me in a state of brokenness. He felt like I failed to care for his wife in the moment of her need.
And I realized something. I had cared for her the way I would want to be cared for. Personally, I don’t want people prying into my life when I’m in a rough place. I would prefer to share with them when I’m ready. I would prefer to be just left alone at moments like that. What I had done is that I had ministered to her in a way that I would have wanted to be ministered to. In so doing, I failed to realize that not everyone wants to be ministered to in the same way. The criticism offered to me in that moment has often come to my mind when I consider how to serve someone. I grew in wisdom through that experience and criticism.
When someone offers you criticism and you react in a defensive manner, which I have done way too many times, a few things are accomplished. (1) You keep that person from probably ever offering you criticism again which is a loss for you although it may be more comfortable and enjoyable at present. (2) You act in such a way as to injure the friendship you had with them. (3) You fail to ever benefit from either unkind or gracious criticism. Even unkind criticism may have something of value hidden within. As a result, instead of seeing criticism as an opportunity for personal growth, you plateau in your growth and hurt your relationships.
These truths I have drawn from my personal experiences of poorly receiving criticism. This is wisdom I learned through my experiences.
Filter experiences through divine revelation. Like our observations, your experiences are not an inerrant authority for truth and wisdom. Any lesson learned from experience must as well be filtered through the lens of scriptural truth. Interestingly enough, scripture very clearly confirms the conclusions I was drawing through my experiences, and might I add in a manner that hurt just a tad. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” ( ESV). “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” ( ESV).

Conclusion: Gain Wisdom Through Revelation

We can gain wisdom through observation, instruction, and experience, but none of these are sufficient, authoritative, or inerrant sources for wisdom. We could draw faulty conclusions from our observations and experiences. We could be misguided by the instruction of others. Therefore, there must be another source by which all of those observations, experiences, and instruction must be filtered. That source is God’s Word. In a couple of weeks we will be taking a deeper look into how we acquire wisdom through God’s word.
[1] Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. ( ESV). My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. ( ESV). My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, ( ESV). And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. ( ESV). My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. ( ESV). My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; ( ESV). And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. ( ESV). Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels ( ESV). And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. ( ESV).
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