In the previous lessons we have learned that the pursuit of wisdom is important and ranks with all the Christian virtues as something a Christian should be looking to grow. After all, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” Prov. 4:7. Of course, James tells us to pray for wisdom (1:5) and Solomon continues to urge us to seek it out: “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.” Prov. 4:5. So, I should be actively seeking wisdom. Ok, but how? How do I gain in wisdom? Let's see what Proverbs says about this.
[A word of warning, most of these Proverbs posts are very scripture heavy as I allow Solomon to teach us. I add just enough to tie the passages together and make them real for our modern lives.]
Prov. 10:8 “The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.”
Prov. 10:14 “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.”
Prov. 18:15 “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”
From these it seems that one basic characteristic of the wise is that they are willing to listen and learn from others. They seek out new knowledge and store it up.
Prov. 19:20 “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”
A wise man is willing to listen and learn and here we are instructed to listen and accept instruction in order to be wise. If I want to be wise I must be willing to listen to the teachings of those wiser than I, but I can't listen blankly. This isn't daydreaming in class, but time spent thinking about the advice and instruction I've received.
Prov. 2:1-5 "My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God."
Look at how Solomon describes the search for wisdom. Receive, treasure up, make ear attentive, inclining heart, call out, raise voice, seek and search. This is effort. This is work. This is dedication to achieving a goal. Solomon continues his urgings:
Prov. 4:13 “Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.”
Prov. 22:17 “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge”
Prov. 23:12 “Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.”
Don't just idly listen; keep hold of the instruction and don't let go. Then, apply your heart to knowledge and instruction. That word "apply" was a very old Hebrew word that had come to mean a lot of different things. Originally it just meant "go" or "come". Every other meaning it subsequently acquired was action oriented. So, when I apply my heart to teaching, I'm taking action with my heart regarding that teaching. I'm changing myself to better fit the teaching and thereby acquire wisdom.
Of course, this isn't always pleasant. One of the greatest challenges to accepting the instruction of others is the notion that "I can figure it out by myself!" I want to be self-sufficient and don't want to rely on anyone else. Solomon makes quick work of that idea:
Prov. 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Prov. 16:25 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Prov. 28:26 “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
Notice that 14:12 and 16:25 are word for word copies. Solomon (or rather the Holy Spirit through Solomon) thought that idea was so important he repeated it verbatim later in his book. If I try to figure everything out for myself, I'll wind up dead. Trusting in my own ideas proves me a fool. Instead I should walk in wisdom, or the instruction I've been gathering. This idea of needing others to help us learn and grow is found in the New Testament especially in Titus as the older women are told to teach the younger. In Galatians 6 we are taught to help instruct those who have fallen away back in to the light. No matter how gentle we are, some will always refuse to listen. These are fools and will come to a bad end:
Prov. 15:12 “A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.”
Prov. 9:7 “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.”
Prov. 13:18 “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
Prov. 15:5 “A fool despises his father's instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.”
Prov. 29:1 “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”
Even the instruction of the wise is sometimes a bit painful:
Prov. 10:17 “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.”
The instruction heeded is also referred to as reproof. To be reproved is to be chided, to be told you are wrong. This is never fun, but the wise one listens and grows while the fool rejects it.
Prov. 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
Prov. 15:31 "The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence."
Prov. 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
Again and again, listening to reproof and loving discipline are part of growing wisdom. The wise also knows that a true friend will wound you to make you better while your enemy flatters you enormously.
So, I need to be willing to listen to instruction even when it hurts. I need to think about, to apply myself to that teaching. What other practical advice does Solomon give for obtaining wisdom?
First, choose your companions with care:
Prov. 14:7 “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.”
Prov. 13:20 “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Sometimes foolish people are fun to hang out with, but you will never learn much from them. If you want to become wise, seek out those who are wise and spend as much time as possible with them.
Second, and finally, seek out counselors:
Prov. 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
Prov. 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Prov. 20:18 “Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.”
Prov. 24:6 “for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.”
Solomon, in preparing his son to be king, speaks of war, but the principle holds to any activity. Do you want to start teaching Bible classes? Find someone who has done it and discuss it with them. Are you a new parent, unsure of what to do? Look around and find several successful parents and get their advice. Do you want to start a new business? Write a novel? Further your education? Find counselors who know about those things and talk to them. This wisdom isn't just related to our spiritual lives, but will help us be successful in all aspects of our lives. But for it to work, we have to be willing to listen.
Prov. 4:10-13 "Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life."