“Faith, Wisdom, Learning, and Getting to the Right Party”
November 15, 2020
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
As Christians, when we speak about the education of our children, we are talking about the acquiring of knowledge and we are talking about the acquiring of skills … but we are also talking about much more than that. We are also talking about the acquiring of wisdom.
Wisdom is not the same as intelligence, knowledge, or marketable skills. It also is not simply good moral intentions.
Wisdom, as Dr. Jack Collins has put it, is “skill in the art of godly living.” In other words, wisdom is the ability to live as God calls us to in God’s world. Wisdom therefore requires a certain approach to God, to ourselves, and to this world that God has made.
The opposite of wisdom in the Bible is folly. But folly is not just a lack of wisdom – it’s not merely an absence. Folly, as the Bible understands it, is resistance to wisdom.
When it comes to folly, the Bible mainly uses three categories of people who are at various stages of foolishness. There is the simple, the fool, and then the scoffer.
The simple, commentator Derek Kidner writes, “is the kind of person who is easily led, gullible, silly. Mentally he is naïve […] morally he is willful and irresponsible. […] The simple […] is no halfwit; he is a person whose instability could be rectified, but who prefers not to accept discipline in the school of wisdom.” [Kidner, Proverbs, 36-37]
The fool is one step worse than the simple. The fool, Kidner writes, is “one who is dull and obstinate.” But once again “it must always be remembered that the book [of Proverbs] has in mind a man’s chosen outlook, rather than his mental equipment.” The fool prefers “comfortable illusions” to the truth. [Kidner, Proverbs, 37]
Finally, the scoffer or scorner is the worst of the three. His presence in Proverbs, Kidner writes, “makes it finally clear that mental attitude, not mental capacity, classifies the man. He shares with his fellows their strong dislike of correction […], and it is this, not any lack of intelligence, that blocks any move he makes towards wisdom. The mischief he does is not the random mischief of the ordinary fool, but the deeper damage of the ‘debunker’ and deliberate trouble-maker.” [Kidner, Proverbs, 39]
Our text tonight considers wisdom, folly, and the path of the simple before each one.
With that framework before us, we turn to Proverbs chapter nine.
Please listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:
9:1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
11 For by me your days will be multiplied,
and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;
if you scoff, you alone will bear it.
13 The woman Folly is loud;
she is seductive and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house;
she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
15 calling to those who pass by,
who are going straight on their way,
16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
And to him who lacks sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet,
and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18 But he does not know that the dead are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
This is the Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
Let’s pray …
Lord, we rejoice at your word,
like one who finds great spoil.
We hate falsehood,
but we love your commandments.
We know that those who love your law have peace,
and nothing can make them stumble.
And so help us now to keep your testimonies from the heart,
and to love them exceedingly.
Help us to pursue a life of faithfulness,
knowing that all our ways are before you.
Grant this, we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:162-163, 165, 167-168]
Proverbs chapter nine holds out before us two destinations, and then two paths to follow. Tonight I want to consider each, and then how Christian education seeks to point our covenant children at the goal of wisdom and enables them to walk on the path of wisdom.
We’ll begin by considering the two destinations that are put before us here. The two destinations are two houses, and essentially two different parties – two different feasts. There is the house of Wisdom and the house of Folly. And as we look at this chapter, we see one similarity and two differences between these houses.
First, we see that the appeal that they each makes, and their target audience are the same.
In verse four we read of Wisdom’s appeal. She says:
4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she [speaks]
Then, in verse sixteen we come to Folly’s appeal. She says:
16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
And to him who lacks sense she [speaks],
The opening appeal and the target audience are the same.
And each actively pursues the simple in similar ways as well. In verse three we read of how Wisdom sends out her young women “to call from the highest places in the town.”
And then, in verses fourteen and fifteen we read about how Folly too “takes a seat on the highest places of the town” and calls to those who pass by.
Wisdom and Folly are not passive things waiting to be discovered. Each one pursues people to come to their house – to come to their feast. And they begin their appeal in the very same way.
But then, when we look at the houses and at the feasts themselves, we begin to see the differences.
The first difference is in what is offered.
Wisdom offers gifts. We see that in verse five. Wisdom offers a feast of bread and wine that she herself has made. The blessings she offers are not earned, but they are freely given – they are gifts of God.
Folly, on the other hand, recommends not receiving the gifts of God, but grasping at what has not been given by God.
In verse seventeen Folly says, “Stolen water is sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
Wisdom offers gifts, where Folly offers grasping.
But then a second difference emerges as well. And that is the destination itself.
The house of Wisdom is described in verses one and two. What is described is a sturdy and well-built house, which hosts a life-giving feast. The house of Wisdom gives life, we read in verse six. It gives life spiritually. It gives life intellectually. It gives life ethically. It gives life physically. In a holistic way, it is a house of life.
This is in contrast with the house of Folly. For we are told in verse eighteen that when it comes to the house of folly, “the dead are there, [and] her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” The house of Folly is a house of death. And it is a house of death in a holistic way: it leads to spiritual death, to intellectual death, to ethical death, and even to physical death.
And as we see the different offerings and the different destinations between Wisdom and Folly, we must also reevaluate the appeal that they make. The appeal sounds identical. It is an invitation. It is a promise of blessing. But one promise is true while the other is actually a lie. Though their appeals sound the same, they are actually at odds with each other.
Wisdom offers to the simple truth, grace, and life. Folly offers to the simple lies, grasping, and death.
One of the chief goals of Christian parenting is to help our children to aim their lives at the house of Wisdom. This is not a one-time thing; it is a decision our children will have to be trained and convinced to make over and over again. After all, as they go about their lives, both the servants of the house of Wisdom and Lady Folly herself make their appeal to them. They call out to them as they pass by. Over and over again. One duty of Christian parents is to help our children make that decision to pursue the house of Wisdom more often than not. One duty of the Church is to help Christian parents as they seek to do that.
Throughout history and into today the people of God have sometimes neglected this calling, and sometimes intentionally pursued it. And when they have pursued it, they have found a variety of ways to do so.
One thing that we believe is so often a help to our covenant children, and a help to Christian parents as they seek to train their children up, is Christian education. And one specific way we as a church have sought to aid Christian families in our own congregation and from other congregations is by starting and supporting Covenant High School as a ministry to them.
The goal of Covenant High School is to point its students to truth, grace, and life. The teachers and the staff of Covenant High School are called on to act as the servants of Lady Wisdom described here in verse three. They are to sit with students in the classroom and present truth to them, and place it in opposition to the lies of Lady Folly. They are to exhort students to pursue the gifts that God offers them, rather than to grasp at the deceptive offerings of the world. They are to see the beauty of spiritual, intellectual, and physical life that comes with wisdom and truth. And they are also to discern the ugliness of spiritual, intellectual, and physical death that comes with sin and folly.
It is difficult to raise faithful and wise children in our world today. It is a task Christian parents cannot face alone. It is a task that parents and congregations struggle to meet.
Assisting Christian parents in raising children who will respond to the call of Lady Wisdom, and pursue truth, grace, and life is the first reason we see in this text that we as a church are committed to Covenant High School and Christian education.
That’s the first thing we see in our text: two destinations.
The second thing we see is two paths – each leading to a different house. Because, of course, the house you want to go to in your heart is irrelevant if you are walking instead on the path that leads to its opposite.
And the two paths are described in verses seven through twelve.
These verses can read like a disjointed set of sayings and proverbs. And while there is not the clear chain of an argument being made over these verses, a picture of two paths is certainly being painted in them for us.
One path is the path that refuses correction and leads to folly.
And so we read in verses seven and eight that a scoffer responds to correction with abuse and hatred, and a wicked man responds by injuring the one who corrects him.
The other path, though, accepts and even invites correction. And it leads to wisdom. In verses eight and nine we read that a wise man will respond to reproof with love, and will hear instruction and learn from teaching.
As we think of these two paths, we need to recognize that there is more than one way to refuse correction in the world we live in.
One way to refuse correction is the way of nonjudgmentalism. This is one tendency in our culture to refuse the negative nature of correction. And so instead of correcting falsehood, this approach falls into relativism. Instead of confronting unhealthy patterns, this approach insists on affirming the actions of everyone. Instead of pursuing truth, this approach prefers to speak of different perspectives.
This can be a collective way of refusing the correction that leads to wisdom. It can be a corporate way of pursuing folly.
But it’s not the only way to refuse correction. Another way that is also common in our culture is the way of the merciless meritocracy.
Many have described this, but it is an approach to education and to life where winning and competition is everything. Everything is about coming out on top. Everything is about having perfect grades. Everything is about appearing smarter or more successful than others. And what begins in school then extends to life, in adults who strive in all areas of life to be and to look better than others: in their jobs, in their finances, in their families. Success is the highest good.
Many in our culture try to instill this ethic in their children. But while this ethic can teach children to pursue success as their highest good, it cannot teach them to pursue wisdom.
Because growing in wisdom – growing in our skill in the art of godly living in this world – growing in wisdom is not possible unless we can admit our deficiencies … unless we can admit our faults, our flaws, our errors, and our shortcomings.
But a merciless meritocracy has no room for such admissions. In a pure meritocracy, achievement is all that matters. What matters most is not the learning but the grade. What matters most is not discovering truth and beauty, but circling the right answer. What matters most is not real growth but projecting perfection. Which means that no fault can be admitted. And so no correction can be received. And so no wisdom is possible. And even learning itself becomes not a good thing in itself, but a means to the end of social climbing.
But contrary to the paths of nonjudgmentalism or merciless meritocracy, the path that leads to wisdom requires shaping people – shaping students – who readily accept and are glad for correction. But how is this possible?
This question – this dilemma exposes the fact that truth and grace are not only the content of Christian education – but they are the path of Christian education. Truth and grace are to be the path of real learning – the culture of a Christian school.
First, there must be a love of truth. Getting the right answer, or understanding a concept cannot primarily be about a merciless competition with others. If it is, then students will come to despise the truth. They will either turn into merciless meritocrats, or they will opt out of the educational battle altogether in favor of some form of nonjudgmentalism.
Instead, students must be captured by a love of truth that is ultimately rooted in the God of truth. It is by having God as their greatest good that students can rightly relate to truth in God’s world – whether it is scientific truth, mathematical truth, literary truth, theological truth, or truth in any other form.
But second, and along with that, the culture of a Christian school must be saturated with the grace of the gospel. For that is the only way that students can rightly receive correction.
Covenant High School believes in rigorous academic pursuits. But if academic success is the ultimate place that our students find their identity, then they not only will struggle to succeed in their education, but they will struggle to learn wisdom.
True education and the learning of true wisdom require students to accept correction – to admit when they are wrong. But if academic success and seeming smart is where they get the deepest identity of their heart, they will never want to admit when they are wrong.
But the grace of the gospel tells them that as important as education is, their grades and their academic reputation are not their core identity. Their core identity is as a son or a daughter of God. And they have that identity out of sheer grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.
In Christian education, we should always be pointing students back to the reality of the gospel, because it is the deepest need of their soul.
But in Christian education we must also be pointing students back to the gospel again and again because it is only as they find their identity there that they can receive correction and truly excel in their academics, in pursuing wisdom, and in living their lives.
Folly, we are told in verse thirteen, is loud and seductive.
That is true in each one of our lives. It’s also true in the lives of our children.
Our calling, not only as parents, but as a church, is to do all we can to serve as Lady Wisdom’s heralds, calling our covenant children to long for the house of Wisdom, and to set out on the path of Wisdom.
To do that, we must proclaim to them truth and grace that leads to life.
Let us do that in our churches. Let us do that in our families. And let us also do that in our schools.
This sermon draws on material from:
Collins, C. John. A Study Guide for Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Rev. ed. Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, 2005.
Kidner, Derek. Proverbs. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1964.
CCLI Copyright License 751114; CCLI Streaming License CSPL116892