We’re going to be in Proverbs 8 this morning,
so I invite you to turn there.
Last week we started looking at the Book of Proverbs.
We said that this is a book of the Bible that opens up before us like a vast treasure chamber of wisdom and says to us: “Take my treasure—take what you find here.”
And the treasure of this book isn’t jewels or gold or amulets of power.
The treasure of Proverbs is wisdom—the ability to live well.
Proverbs wants us to learn to be better at being human beings—
better at the art of human life.
That’s what it’s offering when it offers us “wisdom.”
The Book of Proverbs is filled with little micro-poems called (that’s right, you guessed it) proverbs.
All kinds of short-sayings packed with practical truth.
But before we even get to the bulk of these short sayings—
to what most of us would consider to be “the meat” of the book of Proverbs—
we’ve got a long poem in chapters one through nine.
And so we’re going to be reflecting on some of that poem today.
(8.1-21) Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have insight, I have power.
By me kings reign
and rulers issue decrees that are just;
by me princes govern,
and nobles—all who rule on earth.
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.
We’ll finish listening to the rest of the chapter in just a second, but can you hear what’s being said here?
This poem is painting a portrait—
painting a portrait of woman.
This is a woman who stands out in public—
at the highest intersection of streets (v2)
at the gate of the city (v3).
This is a woman who has gone on the Tonight Show—
this is a woman who is in full-view of the public.
No one is with her, no one is beside her,
and yet she’s calling out to everyone—to all mankind (v4).
She wants everyone to listen to her— she has true and trustworthy things to say (v6-7).
In fact—what she has to say (v10-11) is more valuable than gold or silver or rubies or shares in Google.
Nothing we desire (v11) can compare this woman and her words.
That’s a powerful statement
(“nothing we can desire”)
because I can desire a lot of things.
But this woman calls out and says,
“Nothing you desire—no, nothing you desire—compares with me.”
She says that she is the one (v14) with counsel and insight.
In other words:
this woman is the one who can see the world clearly— who understands how our lives are meant to fit together.
She’s has the ability to make us rich—to give prosperity and honor and wealth (v18), but just being with her (v19)—just being in her presence— is better than any of those riches.
Because she takes people on the paths of “righteousness” and “justice” (v20).
That is, she takes people on the right way of living— the way where things are as they should be.
This is quite the extraordinary woman.
A woman who greets us at the entrance of this treasure chamber and wants to listen to her and be filled up by her (v21).
This woman is Wisdom.
Let’s keep listening to the rest of this poem, because this is where wisdom starts blowing our mind:
(8.22-36) “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
“Now then, my children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not disregard it.
Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”
So this woman has been trotting out her resume, and her biggest credentials just keep growing.
“What I say is trustworthy and true, I possess the ability to see the world clearly and understand the meaning of life, and—oh yeah—I helped God create the world.
“I’ve constantly been at God’s side since the dawn of time—
I helped God bring order to the world, I gave God a hand in putting clouds and oceans in their places (v28),
you know… that sort of thing.”
“I was there before the world began. I helped the world begin.
“So everyone, everywhere, come to me—find me— because you’ll find life (v35) when you find me.
“But if you hate me, you love the craziest thing in the world (v36)— If you hate me you love death.”
When most of us think of the Book of Proverbs,
we think of the short little sayings that start in chapter 10 and not this kind of poetry.
We like the proverbs because they’re just so darn practical.
Growing up I had some vague idea that if you could get enough of these proverbs mastered or memorized then you would “become wise.”
And to be certain,
we ARE given proverbs
with the invitation to master them and memorize them.
There are practical things
each and every one of us
can do every single day
to better practice the art of human life.
We can practice holding our tongues
when we’re ready to jump into an argument.
We can practice being honest about little things when it would be easier to mislead.
We can practice working diligently at what needs to be done when we’d rather be doing anything else.
We can practice being generous to those around us and discover (again and again) that the best possible life is found not when we’re getting but when we’re giving.
The Proverbs are going to be invite us to practically practice a better way of living.
But before we dive into them too deeply we need this portrait of Wisdom held up before us.
Because the picture of Wisdom right here isn’t the picture that most of assume.
Most of us assume that wisdom is something that we master.
For that matter, most of us assume that life is something that we master.
Most of us assume,
that this world
that each one of us
has been plunged into,
that this deep mystery that each one of us keeps waking up in each morning,
is something we need to master.
That we need to master life.
And most of us—I mean, I’m guilty of this— most of us approach wisdom with an agenda. We find out that the Scriptures have something to say about wisdom, and we say:
“Fabulous! I could use some of that.
The resource of wisdom—
the commodity of wisdom—
I could use it for a lot of things.
“I mean, we’ve got a ton of stuff going on:
classes that we’re taking,
kids that we’re raising,
careers that we’re climbing,
finances that we’re managing,
decisions that we’re making,
fears that we’re wrestling—
we’ve got a lot of life coming at us all the time (and it never seems to stop!)
so of course it would be fabulous to have some wisdom that will help us master life.
We’ve all got infomercial instincts:
“Wisdom!? That sounds great!”
“Of course it would be fabulous to have some wisdom to use…
use it for this, use it for that, a little here or a little there.
Wisdom is great!
It chops, it dices, it degreases,
it helps me do everything I’ve ever wanted.
If I can just master wisdom,
then I’ll have a better chance of mastering life.
But this opening poem of Proverbs really challenges us to reevaluate what it is we’re seeking.
Because this poem paints a picture of wisdom as something we can never master: a person.
Whatever wisdom is (as it’s presented to us in the Book of Proverbs),
wisdom is not a product for us to use to help us master life as it’s always been.
Wisdom isn’t a something for us to master—
wisdom is a Someone we get to know.
I mean, if we turned on the TV tonight and saw an informercial selling a person—
promoting all the uses that this person could have and insisting on all the things they could do for you,
we would be physically sick.
You can’t sell a person.
It’s slavery. It’s evil. It violates something foundational in the world.
Picture the people that you love the most in the world.
Your parents, your friends, your spouse, your children, your co-workers— the faces and names and relationships we value more than anything in the world— they aren’t commodities to use.
They’re companions to love.
When Proverbs talks about Wisdom as a Woman,
we’re immediately out of the realm of a product that we can grab to use,
and more in the realm of a parter that we can get to know.
And that spoils my infomercial instincts that want immediate gratification and life-change from the proverbs.
Because building a relationship with someone, getting to know a person,
developing trust and understanding and love between people—
that takes time.
Despite all the cleverness of infomercials and the marketing industry,
human relationships cannot be bought.
They take time. There’s no shortcuts.
And I think this poem may be pointing us to the same thing.
Wisdom is less like an infomercial and more like a marriage.
It takes time. There are no shortcuts.
I would love it if there were some—not just as a person but also as a pastor.
There’s a huge, huge part of me that would love to stand up here each week and dispense life-changing wisdom that all of us could apply to our lives and that would result in consistent, dramatic healing in every area of our lives.
But the Bible doesn’t even give us that.
Nowhere in Scripture—not even in the book of Proverbs— are we offered us any kind of quick fixes or all-in-one solutions to our lives.
What we get is a lady calling out in the streets—to anyone who will listen.
This poem uses mythic, metaphorical language to describes a Woman
who wants all humanity to come to her to make sense of their lives,
because she helped God make sense of the universe when it was created.
That’s Proverbs 8.
And this woman is either
the most amazing woman we’ve ever heard of
or she’s crazy six-ways-to-Sunday—a complete basket case.
And—if we get honest about it—that’s the Christian faith too.
Because since the earliest days of the Christian movement, Christians have been saying that this mythic, metaphorical portrait is the spitting image of a real historic person.
From the opening of John’s gospel to the writer of Hebrews to the apostle Paul—
they all use this kind of language to describe Jesus:
Jesus ordered the universe and now he invites us to order our lives.
In the Christian church,
this is the heart of wisdom— this is how we become better at being human beings.
Wisdom is about something way deeper than just practical advice.
Wisdom is about way more than figuring out some tricks and techniques to help us master life.
Wisdom is about a Person.
About recognizing that there is One who is always calling to us— who has always been loving us before the very foundation of the world.
And wisdom is just learning to respond to this Person’s love.
In the seat of our being, in the inner depths of our heart,
at the bottom of our souls,
Jesus wants us to know his love for us, and begin to participate in this love.
There is nothing deeper than this.
There will be all the time in the world
to talk about short-sayings and micro-poems and practical wisdom—
and hammer out the nuts-and-bolts of what it looks like to participate in this love,
but before all of that, we’ve got to hear this person calling out to us.
We’ve got to see Wisdom standing before us,
otherwise, we’ll miss the whole point of everything.
We’ll try to take proverbs and tricks and techniques and slap them onto our broken, fearful, rebellious lives and try to make them run better.
But what we’re invited into is something entirely new—
into (v30) the always delighting, always rejoicing life of God himself.
Into the knowledge that we are always and forever loved.
That as we’re traveling the road of life—
even when our lives are still a foolish mess,
and even we’re practicing practical proverbs,
and even we’re failing and falling and getting back up,
and even when we have no strength to get back up—
we are loved.
This love is the heart of wisdom.
There is nothing deeper.
And as we begin to believe this love, love and wisdom will begin to take root in our lives.
We’ve got remember that
the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
In just a few moments, you’ll be invited to come to this table.
You will be invited to receive some bread,
you’ll be invited to dip it in the cup, before you return to your seats along the sides.
This table is a defining picture of the life of wisdom—
learning to answer the invitation learning to receive love from God,
and then learning to take that love into us.
As we come to your table, Lord,
flood our ears with your invitation to us,
open our eyes to your presence among us,
overwhelm our hearts with your furious love, and guide our steps down the path of wisdom
so that we too may be filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in your presence,
rejoicing in your whole world,
and delighting in mankind.