From Wisdom to WISDOM

This is the million pound question.

Let me suggest four  routes that should take us “from Wisdom to WISDOM.”

Fearing the LORD… Jesus

The governing principle of wise living is “the fear of the Lord” (Prov 1:7, 9:10).  The fear of the LORD is a disposition towards God of reverence and reliance. Such fear and faith spring from a personal knowledge of Yahweh. The more we know of the LORD who has revealed Himself in history and Scripture, the more we will fear His displeasure and trust His grace.

We can easily transpose this into a Christian context. Perhaps the most common confession in the New Testament is that “Jesus is Lord.” Jesus is designated Lord approximately 120 times in the gospels alone. Significantly, this term ​kyrios (Lord) was used in the Septuagint to represent the divine name of God.  To call Jesus “Lord” is to unsubtly associate him with Yahweh.

Thus, in a New Testament setting, to fear the Lord is to reverently rely on Jesus. Wisdom begins with the question: what is my heart’s attitude towards the Lord Jesus Christ?

Christ: the wisdom of God

Paul, writing to the Colossians, designates Christ as “the wisdom of God” (Col 2:3).  Jesus is God’s wisdom.  This, despite the fact that Christ’s crucifixion is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks. Yet to those who are being saved Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). His gospel carries the “power of salvation” (Rom 1:16) and in Him are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).

All of this means that we can tell the world that Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s wisdom. The wisdom of the OT is provisional; the wisdom of the cross is ultimate.  Supreme wisdom is found in the gospel of Christ and ultimately “in Christ” Himself.

The New and Greater Solomon: wisdom’s practitioner and teacher

It is easy to demonstrate that Jesus is presented in the Gospels as a new and greater Solomon. Luke especially emphasizes the growth of the boy Jesus in wisdom and our Lord’s extraordinary wisdom as a youth (2:40, 46,47, 52). Jesus’ first sermon is said to produce “amazement” (cf. 1 Kgs 10:4); indeed afterwards the people asked “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” (Mk 6:2). Later we see Jesus teaching using parables in the style of the wisdom teacher. Later still, we see Jesus brilliantly escaping the testing questions of His enemies (Mk 12:13, cf 1 Kgs 10:1). Finally, Jesus Himself claimed to be “one greater than Solomon” (Lk 11:31).

In Jesus we have a new and greater Solomon. In a way surpassing even Solomon, Jesus teaches the way of wisdom. And unlike Solomon, Jesus was the perfect practitioner of wisdom. With Solomon, it was sometimes a case of “do as I say, but not as I do.” But the wisdom Jesus teaches, he embodies, with a perfect life of righteousness.

Gospel implications and living wisely

I have sometimes heard it said that to Christ-centered preaching simply declares what God has DONE for sinners in Jesus Christ. It is true – wonderfully true – that the gospel is news of what God has done for sinners. It is also true – sadly true – that too many preachers merely proclaim a list of do’s, while they hide away the gospel of grace.

But while Christ-centered preaching must start with what God has done in Christ, it must not end there. The same disciples who are called to trust in the free offer of the gospel, are subsequently called to obey everything Christ commanded. There are ethical entailments which are not to be confused with the gospel, but which naturally flow out from the gospel.  Those saved by grace are also taught by grace to “say no to ungodliness” (Titus 2:12).

This is where the wisdom literature comes in. Interestingly, when the book of Proverbs is quoted in the New Testament (8 times), the proverbs are used predominantly in an ethical way. They are not cleverly applied to Jesus in some way we hadn’t thought of. They are applied as supporting Scripture to encourage godly living.

This is also “preaching Christ.” Jesus wants His life and death to be proclaimed for the salvation of men. But he also wants the life of godliness expounded for the sanctified living of the church. The children of God must learn, however slowly and limpingly, to walk as Jesus did (1 Jhn 2:6).

 

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Previous posts in this series:

Why Do We Ignore Wisdom?

Why Bother With Wisdom?

What is Distinctive About Biblical Wisdom?

Workman’s Toolbox – 29.1.13

Good morning brothers. I pray the Lord’s blessing on your preparation and preaching this week. A few links to mull over:

Wisdom’s Anticipation of Christ

I am hoping to post on this subject tomorrow, but I wanted to direct you to a helpful interview where Douglas O’Donnell attempts to answer the tricky question of how do we preach Christ from the wisdom genre?

First, he answers in general terms:

Jesus is presented in three ways. First, he is the wisdom sage par excellence. Like the sage of Proverbs 1:26, Jesus taught practical, intellectual, moral, and mysterious wisdom to the young, the simple, and the already wise, using proverbial sayings, parables, beatitudes, and many other figures of speech. Second, Jesus is wisdom acted. That is, in all his relationships, mostly notably his relationship with his heavenly Father, Jesus acted as the obedient son—the perfectly wise child—should. Put differently, our Lord Jesus, in his incarnate nature, perfectly and perpetually feared the LORD. From the cradle to the cross, he walked the way of wisdom. Third, Jesus is wisdom embodied—he is the very “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). And he beckons all to come to him for rest and fullness of life.

Collin Hansen then goes on to ask, how would you explain the unique message of each OT wisdom book as it anticipates Jesus? O’Donnell answers:

Proverbs: For our own good and the glory of God, the book of Proverbs invites and instructs God’s covenant people—especially young men—to embrace wisdom. For Christians, such wisdom comes through fearing God’s beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:21), and walking in his wisdom.

Ecclesiastes: Ecclesiastes is about finding the goodness of God while living within the vanity of this world. Such goodness or “wisdom” is found only through a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This relationship involves trusting in Christ and heeding his commands, which brings rest, justice, and joy.

Job: The book of Job prefigures the purposeful sufferings of Christ. That is, the story of God’s servant Job prepares us for the story of Jesus, the suffering servant, who in his passion and death shows how innocent suffering can show forth the justice of God.

What Is Distinctive About Biblical Wisdom?

Wisdom literature is not unique to the Bible. In fact, the bible itself refers to the wisdom and wise men of Israel’s neighbors. The wisdom of Egypt (1 Kgs 4:30), Arabia (Jer 49:7), Babylon (Is 47:10) and Phoenecia (Ez 28:3) are all given mention in Holy Scripture. Indeed many of these schools of wisdom emerged earlier in history than Israel. The wisdom of God’s chosen people flowered quite late in the day. And so, the question arises…

What is so distinctive about biblical wisdom?

1. Its Supreme Quality

Its widely accepted that Solomon was the wellspring of the wisdom corpus. Just as David was the spring of the psalms, so Solomon was the fountainhead of the proverbs . It is quite impossible, therefore, to think of Israel’s wisdom without also thinking of Solomon. And when we think of Solomon, we consider a man who possessed an extraordinary level of wisdom.

Several passages emphasize the unprecedented degree of Solomon’s wisdom. After Solomon asks Yahweh for wisdom, the LORD replies, “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1 Kings 3:12, emphasis added). This unparalleled wisdom is then demonstrated in the following account, when Solomon brilliantly discerns between two claimants to one baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). Solomon’s wisdom is commended further through the visit of the Queen of Sheba. She concludes at the end of their state visit: “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” (1 Kings 10:6-7).

All of this is designed to demonstrate Solomon’s superior wisdom. The world may have its wise-men, but Solomon towers above them all. And if the wisdom corpus was largely spawned by Solomon, that means that it too has a superior quality.

2. Its Divine Source

Much of wisdom literature has an earthy feel. It reflects ‘life on the ground’ in the dirt and dust of daily life. Nevertheless, this earthy material – we mustn’t forget – has a heavenly source. Unlike other wisdom writings which are purely the product of human reflection, biblical wisdom is divine revelation.

This is not to say for a moment that God bypassed the human mind. We are not claiming that God circumvented the reflections upon experience which human beings are capable of. What we are saying is that the Holy Spirit was ultimately guiding this process. Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes are part of that ‘all Scripture’ which Paul tells us is ‘breathed out by God.’  Biblical wisdom is not merely human observation, it is divine revelation.

3. Its Divine Orientation

Biblical wisdom is God-conscious. This is in contrast to much of the wisdom materials outside the bible – whether in Egypt, or in Waterstones.  Human wisdom is entirely humanly focused. There is usually no mention of God in those writings.

But biblical wisdom is theological.  A repeated maxim in Proverbs is that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  (Proverbs 9:10. And Proverbs 1:7.  Also see Psalm 111 verse 10)

In biblical thinking, then, wisdom is not merely worldly experience or practical smarts.  The tree of wisdom, with all of its delectable fruit, grows out of the fear of the LORD. Reverencing God, and seeing all life in relation to Him, is the root system out of which the truly wise life develops and grows. The truly wise man is the man who knows God, fears God, relies on God and who lives their life with a constant consciousness of their Creator. Knowing and fearing God is the starting point of all true wisdom. This means that a person may abound in knowledge and experience and still be a fool (see Ps 14:10, Luke 12, James 4). If they haven’t factored God into their equation for living they are unlikely, indeed unable, to live with wisdom.

 

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 Previous posts in this series:

Why Do We Ignore Wisdom?

Why Bother With Wisdom?

 

 

Why Bother With Wisdom?

Following on from yesterday’s post, let us now consider some reasons to preach from the wisdom genre.

1.  The value of the Bible

“All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Enough said…

2.   The aim of the Bible

Why do we have a bible? One legitimate way to answer that question would be: ‘God has given us the Bible to make us wise.’ In His astounding grace, God has purposed that the Scriptures should make us “wise for salvation.” And that is not all. The Bible is further designed to “thoroughly equip” us for every good work.  In short: the bible is wisdom to be saved by, and wisdom to live by. Therefore to preach wisdom literature is not to preach what is tangential, but central, to the Bible’s stated purpose.

3.  The art of skillful living

Wisdom could be defined as skill in the art of godly living.  Going by that definition, how many of us would dare call ourselves ‘wise’?  Could we not be more adept in our parenting? More skilled in handling our finances? How about our words? Are we always saying the right thing.. at the right time.. in the right manner.. to the right people?

If so, congratulations Solomon! If not, then wisdom opens its arms to embrace us. Wisdom is a goldmine of sagely-counsel; it invites the simple to delve into its plunder!

4.  The perplexities of life

Tim Keller has commented that “Genesis stands behind Proverbs.”  He means that wisdom literature assumes Creation. God made the universe and inbuilt a certain ‘order’ to things. This is not just a predictable material order, but a moral order: human experience has typical patterns. To give but a few instances: righteous people tend to flourish, hard working people tend to make good money, and godless people tend to come to ruin. These are ‘trends’ in God’s ordered world.

But Job, in particular, reminds us that patterns aren’t the same as promises. Job was living a wise life, fearing the Lord, working hard, and raising his children prayerfully. Yet Job loses everything, save his own life. How do we account for this? Surely one thing Job is teaching us is that while the world has order, it also has mystery. While we live our lives in this world there will always be mysteries and perplexities, even for the godliest saint. The trick is to learn to trust God in the dark, as well as in the daylight.

5.  The wisdom of God Personified ​

A striking feature of Proverbs is that wisdom is often personified. Wisdom is frequently personified as a woman (Lady Wisdom), and is famously personified as a Craftsman in the Proverbs 8 account of Creation. The New Testament takes this a step further. There, wisdom is personified in the flesh and blood man, Jesus of Nazareth. The wisdom literature helps prepare us for his final revelation.

Theologians often refer to the three offices which God the Son fulfilled on earth.  Jesus is said to be “prophet”, “priest” and “king.” But we might easily add to that trio: Jesus as the “wise-man.” Our Lord is clearly presented in the gospels as being full of wisdom; one who is greater than Solomon. Much of Jesus’ style of teaching is cast in the wisdom style. Summing it up, Paul could says that “In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”  (Col 2:3). We will better understand our Lord and Savior’s ministry when we’ve first grappled with the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

Why Do We Ignore Wisdom?

When did you last hear a sermon from the “wisdom genre”? 

Just recently I put that question to a bright, ecclectic group of Christian students. The response was a row of bemused and blank faces. One guy eventually offered that his pastor ‘had once preached a series on Ecclesiastes.’  The rest had never heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes, Job or Proverbs.

That’s right: not one sermon.

Such things are anecdotal, I know. Yet I strongly suspect that wisdom is an under-preached genre. At least in the circles where I move, pastors seem to fear that their congregations could not ‘survive’ a series on a wisdom book. In all  fairness, there is some justification for their trepidation!

​Peculiar Challenges

We don’t need ‘the wisdom of Solomon’ to identify some challenges which wisdom literature presents the preacher.

First, there’s the ​style ​of it.  The wisdom genre is dominated by Hebrew poetry. For some of us, Hebrew poetry is completely ‘uncharted waters’. For others of us, though we have studied it for years, it can still seem ”unfamiliar territory’. Whether its coping with the constant use of parallelism, or working out how to preach pithy sayings (Proverbs!) or long theologically inaccurate discourses (Job!), this brand of literature is tough to interpret and tougher to preach.  We fear becoming ship-wrecked on the rocks of the unusual style of this literature.

A second challenge is the ​subjects ​addressed by wisdom literature. The themes that wisdom literature raises are not typical when compared with wider Scripture. For instance, wisdom is rooted in theology but it is not primarily theological instruction. Similarly, wisdom has an ethical dimension, but it is not pure ethical instruction. Wisdom deals with how to live skillful, godly lives in the fear of the Lord. It deals with topics like the choices we make, the friends we choose, and the way we work. It addresses how to make life work, and how to cope when our life seems to unravel.

A final challenge has do with how the ​storyline ​of the bible connects with wisdom literature. In other words, how do we preach wisdom redemptively? Is it possible to preach a Christ-exalting sermon from Proverbs? And if so, how do we do that responsibly? This is an important question and it demands serious thought. It may be our struggle to answer this question, that above all, causes us to shy away from wisdom.

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(I am currently preaching a series on Proverbs, and trying to learn how to do it better. Tomorrow: Why bother with wisdom?)

 

 

Workman’s Toolbox – 22.1.13

Some things that would be worth your attention:

“The current state of our preaching is driven by an admirable desire to show our age the relevance of the gospel. But our recent attempts have inadvertently turned that gospel into mere good advice—about sex, about social ethics, about how to live successfully. This either offends or bores our culture. A renewed focus on the Cross, articulated in a culturally intelligent way, is the only way forward. Some will be scandalized by it, others will call it foolishness, and yet some will cling to it as salvation.”

 

 

Tuesday Toolbox – 8/1/13

We’re back after a break, rested up and ready for a new year of preaching. We hope that Unashamed Workman will continue to offer encouragement to preachers in their most primary task during 2013.

  • David Murray is posting a series of helpful videos entitled: How Sermons Work. Here is one installment.
  • This article is one of the best I’ve read in how to preach the gospel from all parts of the bible. One to refer to periodically.
  • 3 Resolutions for preachers
  • I am soon starting a series on Proverbs (“The Way Of Wisdom”).  Here is a summary of five tips I’ll be sharing with the congregation about reading Proverbs.

How to Evaluate Sermons

This gem of a little book is a collection of articles by Dr Joel Beeke that was first published in The Puritan Reformed Journal in 2011 and I am delighted that they have now been brought together and published by Evangelical Press, entitled How to Evaluate Sermons.

Note, though, it’s aimed at preachers evaluating their own sermons – not how to evaluate other people’s sermons!

Joel Beeke poses five questions that we should ask ourselves about our preaching, based on 1 Cor.3:5-15.  Beeke says these questions “provide both a motivation and a method for evaluating our sermons.

 

The five questions are:

1.  Did I preach as God’s servant?

2.  Did I preach to build God’s church?

3.  Did I preach Christ as the only foundation?

4.  Did I build my sermon with the precious materials of reformed experiential preaching?

5.  Did I preach for the Master’s reward?

There is a short section in which he unpacks and applies each of those questions and poses some questions we can ask to evaluate our preparation and our preaching in the light of that biblical principle.  For example, in dealing with the question, ‘Did I preach as God’s servant?’, Beeke suggests such questions as

  • did I demonstrate to my heaers that the sermon came from God’s Word and not my ideas?
  • did I study the Scripture text on my knees, with fervent pleas for illumination?

All the questions are brought together at the end of the book so that they can be easily copied and used repeatedly.

Rarely has so much of value been contained in such a small volume; just 48 pages!

In practice, there’s far too much here to evaluate any one sermon, at least to start with.  Let me encourage you to do what I propose to do throughout 2013; ask at least one of the five main questions about every sermon I preach this year.  I cannot believe that my preaching will not improve and be more God-honouring as a result.

Of course, you have to buy this little book to do that, but at less than £4, that’s hardly an extravangance!

How to Evaluate Sermons by Joel R Beeke

Evangelical Press      48 Pages            ISBN: 9780852347782