The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Over the break my oldest son and I resumed our former engagement with the game of chess. I'd never played chess until I was an adult and it had been years since I played with my son. So it wasn't long into the game before I realized how out of my depth I was–how my capacity for strategy was probably no more developed than my eight-year-old son's. To call me a neophyte would be an insult to neophytes. Sure the objective is simple: corner your opponent's king until he can make no legal moves. But what's required to arrive at a checkmate entails a highly sophisticated perceptiveness and forethought.
So I needed a kind of insight that helped me see the whole chessboard—an acumen for how to make the right move at the right time. I came to understand why IBM spent millions developing a computer named Deep Blue to outmatch the world's leading chess player, Garry Kasparov (which it did). The game's complexity was worthy of the effort to fashion a machine to outwit a human mind.
Life in many ways is like chess. It's constantly calling for us to make the right moves at the right time. It demands an abiding sense of the big picture lest our focus become too narrow. Life entails both action and reaction. As you would expect though, life is far more complicated than chess. There's so much more to plan for—so much you can't. While chess calls for right moves at right moments, life adds right motives and right manner to the list of entailments. Above all, the moves we make in life are far more consequential than what we'll ever make in a game. If chess requires astuteness for a favorable outcome, how much more does life!
Pastor Tommy reminded us last Sunday of the Lord's power, how it is more than what we typically assume and how it works in us, through us, and sometimes quite in spite of us. The Lord exercises some of that power in His bestowing wisdom to us, wisdom like that found throughout the scripture but outlined most succinctly in the Proverbs. What the Proverbs provide, what they require, and what they presuppose point us to the power we so desperately need to navigate this life that is anything but a game (cf Proverbs 1:1–7).
In providing us wisdom, the Proverbs do more than utter pithy bits of sage advice, worthy of embroidery or a screen saver. They offer guidance for what constitutes a life well lived. A life that, among other things, finds goodness, avoids peril, sees through deceit, and makes the most of all that's available. All such constitutes wisdom.
But wisdom is more than making optimal choices, it's inextricably tied to virtuous choices, to "righteousness, justice, and equity" (1:3). As the Proverbs often deal with human interactions, they underscore the need not just for perceptiveness, but also conviction as to what is good, true, and beautiful.
And where wisdom and virtue meet, maturity follows—where the simple find prudence, the young discover discretion (1:4). This is neither a gnostic nor an elitist maturity; it does not require special, hidden knowledge, nor does it depend on the intellectual capacity of the hearer. God gives wisdom lavishly to all who ask (James 1:5).
That the Proverbs exist at all testifies to how their wisdom is not self-evident. That there is such thing as a fool (Prov 1:7)—one who repudiates wisdom—means exposure to wisdom is no guarantee of its embrace. So how do we get it?
The power derived from the wisdom that comes from the Proverbs requires a search: "let the wise hear" (v. 5). Intentionality and devoted attentiveness to a great degree determine the benefit of the Proverbs, for in such is a true seeking. And why should the "wise" hear unless wisdom-seeking were a lifelong endeavor?
But the search also entails an appropriation of what's found—not just listening, but thinking and ascertaining the internal logic. Then it's putting it into practice with the expectation that the experience will refine our understanding. That's what the Proverbs require of us.
But the linchpin of their benefit is an understanding of what the Proverbs presuppose. For one, God is their source. Yes, what's recorded in them is the product of lived experience but it is a divinely circumscribed experience. Yes, much of what we find in the Proverbs was not written on a stone before it was known but God is their ultimate author since He Himself is the standard of wisdom.
And since He is their author the Proverbs also presuppose this: humility before God is the key to reaping their benefit. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (v. 7). Fear here isn't mere fright. It's a respect that God exists, that our relationship to Him is neither optional nor incidental, that we live in view of Him and to Him we must give an account (Hebrews 4:13), and that my existence, identity, dignity, and meaning all derive from Him. Only with that kind of fear can we ever come to know the wisdom He means to impart.
If humility is key to their reaping their benefit, what can better provide a basis for humility than what the wisdom of God revealed at the cross? The cross intones that there is a wisdom, virtue, and maturity we do not possess and never will apart from divine help. With sobering clarity it shouts that there is also a motive for pursuing wisdom we would never embrace even if God spelled it all out for us in a book. And the cross arrests us with the idea that there is a God who, despite our obtuseness, our folly, and our repudiation of wisdom, will not corner us like a checkmated king and grind us into the court of the vanquished for our failures at wisdom. Rather we learn from the cross that God ground His own Son into the chess table of ultimate justice for our inherent folly so that He might cradle us. Then—and only then—will He instruct us in wisdom—we the cornered, the conquered, the damnable beloved.
His power will manifest in ways quite unrelated to our movements, but also in the exercise of the wisdom He bestows us.
To bring wisdom to us, to create the capacity for wisdom in us, to reveal His wisdom through us, the King moved first—to everyone's astonishment.
Now it's your move.