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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Lessons for the Wise Life
Text:Proverbs 30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Obedience
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-01-31
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 13:1,2,3                                                                                      

Ps 32:1,4

Reading – Proverbs 30; James 3:13-4:10

Ps 111:1,2,4,5

Sermon – Proverbs 30

Ps 119:13,14,15

Hy 65:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, what do you do when you want to know something? Say you’ve got a random question, or you need a piece of knowledge—where do you look? If you’re like most people, you Google it. Type it in, and within a split-second you’ve got thousands of answers. Today, knowledge is so readily accessible.

In such a world, what place is there for the book of Proverbs? We all know that it’s a book of wisdom and instruction. But what is it really? It’s more than some database of knowledge, more than some familiar clichés. No, Proverbs is all about a certain style of life, a life that’s in relationship with God! It’s part of what is called the “wisdom literature” of the Bible. This is a group of writings that includes Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, together with Job and Psalms. Each of these books outlines the path for the righteous. They each answer that most vital question: How are we, the people of God, to live before him?

So Proverbs addresses many topics. It talks about work and leisure, earning and spending, drinking and eating, laziness and discipline, marriage and raising children. And all along, there’s this contrast between a wise life and a foolish life. And that’s not just about an education versus a lack of education; it’s about righteousness versus wickedness. Chapter 1:7 serves as the cornerstone of this kind of wisdom, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” That is to say, if you want a right path for life, then you first have to walk with God.

This means that true knowledge is seen in that moment of deciding between good behaviour and evil. It’s seen in that choice between something that serves yourself, and something that serves the Lord. In that moment, Google can’t help you. But God can! Listen to what James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (1:5). This morning I preach to you from God’s wisdom in Proverbs 30,

The LORD teaches his ways to those who ask:

  1. our natural state of ignorance
  2. the heavenly origin of wisdom
  3. Agur’s lessons for living

 

1) our natural state of ignorance: When we think “Biblical wisdom,” we probably picture Solomon. He was king of Israel about 900 years before Christ. In 1 Kings 3, he’s said to be the wisest person ever—not simply through personal study, but through the special blessing of God. From his hand are the lessons in the first nine chapters of this book, where he praises wisdom and warns against folly. Following that, we find separate collections of sayings: some from Solomon, some that are attributed simply to “the wise” (chapters 22 to 24), then wisdom from Agur in chapter 30, and finally from Lemuel in chapter 31.

So who was the Agur who wrote chapter 30? His name is interesting, because it means literally “a collector.” Some people collect bottlecaps, others collect books, but Agur collected wise sayings. More than that, however, nothing certain about him is known. Some think he was a student in King Solomon’s court. Ultimately it doesn’t matter who he was, other than that Agur was moved by the Holy Spirit to write down the words of God. In general, what Agur says is unique. He doesn’t contradict what Solomon says, yet Agur’s lessons have a very different style from Solomon’s. It’s also obvious that he’s a keen observer of the worlds of people and creation, and he draws lessons from them for his students.

But before any of that, Agur begins with deep humility: “Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man” (v 2). Now, we might puzzle over this opening statement: does Agur really mean this? Is this false humility, claiming to be dumb, while actually thinking that he’s supremely wise?

Yet for a child of God, this is the right place to start. He’ll be lowly, and he won’t pretend to have all the answers. In fact, before he can know anything worthwhile, a child of God has to know himself. And not knowing himself in a mystical way, but in humility. Agur knows his personal shortcomings; he’s very much aware of his natural ignorance. There’s so much that he just doesn’t “get,” unless the LORD will help him.

This is a confession that the saints have always made. Think of Asaph, who called himself “senseless” in the LORD’s sight. Think of Isaiah, who protested that he wasn’t holy enough to be God’s prophet. Or Paul, who said that he had no strength or wisdom. It’s what the saints always do, because with that confession we’re ready to be equipped by God, and used by him for good things. As someone once wrote, “Unless a man stoops down, he cannot enter the door.” So Agur will stoop low: “I am more stupid than any man.”

Do we also have that attitude? I think that we’re often very sure of what we know, and we insist on doing it our way. “Whatever seems right to us” will be our guide: for how to react to a problem, for what to do when tempted, for how to manage our money, or for what words to speak at a given moment. “Whatever seems right—or whatever I’ve always done before—that’s what I’ll do.” Solomon calls this “leaning on our own understanding” (3:5). We even have our own sayings and proverbs that we like to fall back on, our own laws as rule and guide for life. “Look out for #1,” we say, “Me first.” Or, “If it feels good, it’s probably all right.” Or, “If no one gets hurt, it’s OK.” Doing it “our way” is almost always easier—and so we think that it has to be better.

This is earthly “wisdom,” which is no wisdom at all. Listen again to how James describes it, “If you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic” (3:14-15). Only the fool says that he knows everything. Only a fool needs no correction or instruction!

But Agur says, “I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One” (v 3). More than just confessing his natural ignorance, Agur says that the things of God are beyond him. He says that the “knowledge of the Holy One” is foreign to him. For apart from God helping us, a person like you or me isn’t able to think true and holy things. Real wisdom can’t be gained through human searching. The person who doesn’t have the Spirit can’t understand the things of the Spirit. No, if we chart our own course for life, we’ll go astray. We’ll get hopelessly lost. Solomon wrote just a couple chapters ago, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (28:26). Don’t trust your heart, Scripture counsels us. Don’t follow your feelings. Don’t be wise in your own eyes, or wise with the wisdom that the world is handing out. But seek the true wisdom where God says that you can find it.

 

2) the heavenly origin of wisdom: You can come into a conversation sometimes, and suddenly you feel really dumb. People are talking about things you have no idea about: maybe it’s about fishing, or it’s about cars. You’re ignorant, and you have nothing to say. That’s why Agur declares his stupidity—because he’s come face-to-face with a profound wisdom. He speaks of this in verse 4, “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if you know?” Agur realizes that there’s a wisdom that is way above his level. For there’s a divine plan and counsel that holds all things together: even the wind, and the waters, and the boundaries of land.

It’s overwhelming when we think about how the LORD makes this universe work: from the distant planets moving in their orbits, to the seasons arriving in their times, to the countless daily events in this world all unfolding just as they should—even our own lives unfolding day by day, just as God planned. When we reflect on this, we recognize that much of what God does is hidden in mystery. “Who has established all the ends of the earth?”

Yet here’s the thing, that God has told us what we need to know. That’s the miracle in verse 5: after facing the unsearchable ways of God, Agur realizes that he can rest in what the LORD has revealed, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in him.” The great God of creation and providence, the God of inscrutable counsel and holy purpose, this God has spoken words of wisdom! He’s talked to us. That’s the wonder of Scripture: that God has come down to our level, and He’s told us true things and meaningful things. He’s given us hundreds of thousands of words that we can believe and can put into practice. Like Paul said: they’re all “given by inspiration of God, and useful for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction… that [we] may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Which means Agur doesn’t have to stay stupid. And we don’t have to remain in our ignorance. It means that every child of God can be directed in ways that are true. For God has spoken to us! He’s given instruction. And it’s precious: “Every word of God is pure.” It’s been tried, and it’s been found utterly reliable. Whatever the Word tells us, we know it’s right. God won’t lie to us. God won’t offer us a false comfort. Even his commandments—which are difficult to keep—even they won’t bring us harm, but they’re for our benefit.

Wisdom is available, yet this means there’s very important implication, a consequence that we all need to work with. Beloved, there’s a calling for each of us to become wise with God’s wisdom. To seek instruction, and ask for guidance. If we affirm that every word of God is pure, then we need to cherish that Word. Treasure it, and listen to it.

What I mean is: Don’t just look at that closed Bible on your shelf, and resolve to read it more when you have the time. Take it down, and read it, and read it again. Read it as the pure Word of God, the Word that can give you life. Don’t sit here in church and plan your upcoming week, but listen attentively to the preaching, a preaching that works faith. Don’t be so busy with a hundred other “searches” on Google that you have no time to search the Scriptures! Search them, for they testify about your Saviour. And then talk about these things with your children, with your parents, with your friends, and your fellow believers.

The only true wisdom, the only right knowledge, can only be found in who God is and what God has said. So “acknowledge him,” Solomon and Agur both say. Don’t just believe in God—anyone can do that. But remember this book’s motto, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…” That’s a proper response to the glorious God. It’s not a trembling, cowering, knees-knocking sort of fear of God, but as we meet the LORD on the pages of Scripture, we ought to have an attitude of deep reverence for his glory. Scripture causes us to be in awe at his majesty. It moves us to submit before his power. It encourages us to depend on his grace, and Scripture makes us so thankful for his goodness. As we read his Word, we recognize that God is greater, and stronger, and wiser than us in every way.

And because He is, we acknowledge that God’s path is always better than the one that we would choose. Notice how this confidence follows directly in verse 5, “Every word of God is pure… He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.” What God teaches and promises, gives us a sure basis. When so much else in this world is uncertain and changing, his Word is our stability. “He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.”

So instead of living according to worldly wisdom, Agur wants heavenly wisdom to guide us in all things. He wants it, because “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17). If we’re willing to listen to that wisdom, we’ll be richly blessed.

 

3) Agur’s lessons for living: Earlier we said that we live in an age where there’s so much information easily accessible. But that doesn’t mean that people are any wiser today. For one of the core ideas of Proverbs is that true wisdom is always practical. If you have that kind of wisdom, you gain useful guidance for life. Think of what James writes in chapter 3. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (v 13). The wise one isn’t necessarily the one with the college diploma, or even the one with all the answers at your Bible study meeting! Who is wise and understanding? James answers that the proof is in his life: “Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (v 13). The wise life is the holy life.

So what lessons from God’s wisdom can we apply to our daily conduct? There’s a lot here, so we can’t give attention to all of it. But because it’s so striking, the prayer in verse 8 needs to be highlighted, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” It’s almost an unthinkable request today: he asks not to be rich! Agur knows how riches can be a terrible danger to our spiritual health. Because when you’re rich, it’s easy to say or think, “Who is the LORD, that I need his grace or his help? Obviously, I can manage well enough without him.”

Agur says more about this in verse 15, “The leech has two daughters—Give and Give!” The leech is a small animal that latches onto your skin when you’re swimming. And a leech would rather die than let go of you, because it’s always hungry for more blood. Well, is that how a child of God is to live? Like leeches, in our endless appetite for more stuff, and better stuff? Consumed by constant greed? So Agur prays: “Don’t make me rich!”

He’s realistic, though. He knows that poverty too, can be a real danger. There can be stress and worry. It comes with a constant concern over expenses and bills. The desire for just a bit more money can be so strong that there’s the temptation to steal or to lie. “So keep me from poverty,” he prays.

Neither a desperate scarcity, nor a deceptive surplus… Do you hear what Agur is saying? Because of his fear for God’s Name, this is his chief concern: that whatever his earthly position, he still honour the LORD. And the best place to do that is when he has enough: “Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me” (v 8). His prayer, and our prayer too, is for God to give what’s necessary, so that we can enjoy life, be thankful, and be faithful.

As he looks around, this teacher of wisdom sees other things too. In verses 11-14, Agur observes four kinds of wicked people: those who rebel against authority, those who think they’re pure, those who are proud, and the violent. He wrote this long centuries ago, but how accurate it still is. Like verse 12, “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness.” There are always those who pretend to be holy, who lie to themselves that they’re pure, while they’re actually unclean. Behind the fine façade of piety and church attendance, there might be some unconfessed sin, some hidden rebellion. A text like this should make any of us pause in self-examination… Are we pure in our own eyes? Secure in our imagined goodness?

The thought is continued in verse 13, “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes!” In pride, we can be so intolerant of others. We excuse shortcomings in ourselves, but we condemn the same things in other people. And instead of sympathizing with the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters, we exploit them, or gossip about them. This is living according to that earthly wisdom, and it’s not pleasing to the LORD.

For in the sight of God, not one of us has anything to claim for himself. Consider what James writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (3:13). Notice the meekness of wisdom. Receiving God’s free gift, knowing that grace has been shown to you, should teach you meekness and humility. For now you know your obligation to show mercy to others! All that you have is from God, so show God’s kind of love in how you treat other people.

As we continue through this chapter, we come to some numerical sayings. Agur speaks of “three things… even four.” These proverbs are like a kind of riddle. After a leading statement or question, a number of answers are provided—not to exhaust the question, but to invite us to reflect and come with more answers. What else can be added to this list?

Take verses 18-19 as an example: “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand.” Here Agur turns his eye to the kingdom of nature, which is full of wonders that can give us instruction. He speaks of things that are effortless in their movements, and things that leave no trace behind them: an eagle soaring through the air, a serpent gliding across a rock, a ship cutting its way through the high seas, and a man charming a young woman.

Then he adds one more, which is probably where he wants our attention to fall: “This is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, ‘I have done no wickedness’” (v 20). As Solomon does so often, Agur too warns us against the trap of adultery. It can begin so easily and end so badly. And what Agur writes is true in general, that when we sin, we think it’ll never be found out. “We wipe our mouth,” erase our tracks, hide the evidence, and we conclude that God will never know. But Agur’s lesson warns us not to go down that road, for all things are before God’s eyes: an eagle, a serpent, a ship, and you and I.

This is something else that Agur observes, “There are four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise” (v 24). Ants, rock badgers, locusts, and spiders—you see some of these things around the house and yard, and what can they ever teach us? These creatures seem insignificant, yet they have “exceeding” wisdom, and they can even be an example to us. For they’re each diligent in their position, and they work hard despite weakness, and they cooperate, and they think ahead. That’s a lesson not to value the things that mankind values. This world is all about having physical strength, beauty, fame, and charm. But we should value wisdom above all. Like an ant or a locust, we might seem like nothing at all to the world. Yet when we live according to God’s wisdom, we’re guaranteed his honour and blessing.

To return to our first question, then: What do you do when you want to know something? Who do we ask? “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if you know?” (v 4). Notice that Agur asks about the Son of the one who knows all things. He asks that, because in his culture it was expected that if a father knew something important, he’d share it with his son. There were no colleges to go to, so a father would teach his son a trade, explain to him how to buy and sell, take him through all the essential lessons of life.  

Who knows all things, “and what is his Son’s name?” More than he realized, Agur points ahead here to the promised Saviour, the Son of the Father. For listen to what Jesus said in John 5, “The Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what he sees his Father doing… For the Father loves the Son and He shows him all he does” (vv 19-20). The Father showed the Son what He needed to do; the Father instructed the Son in the plan of salvation. And in the fear of God’s holy Name, Jesus carried it out. God, who always shared his wisdom with the saints in the Old Testament, has revealed to us his greatest wisdom—his wisdom in Christ our Saviour.

In Christ, God reveals the road that leads to life everlasting. And in Christ, God shows the pattern that He’s transforming each one of us into: the perfect image of his Son. So if you desire this—if you want a sure path for this life, and if you want to go forward in wisdom—this is the way to go: Be sure to walk with the Father, and with his Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and led always by his Holy Word!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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