Fool Proof: Being Teachable
In 2004 Pastor Andy Stanley of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta preached a series that ultimately was put into a book and a small group study guide. The series was called , “The Best Question Ever.” Through his own experiences, he sought godly counsel and it was there that he came across this very insightful passage from Ephesians 5:15-17 (NIV) which reads :
15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
It washere that Andy discovered what he calls the“best question ever.:” IS IT WISE. Stanley argues that asking yourself this question will help you in making decisions, avoiding financial ruin, saving your marriage, sparing yourself from painful emotional scars, help you to never get caught up in addictive sin, and guide you toward the fulfillment of your dreams. Pretty impressive claims!
Some may argue that the best question is, “Is it morally right?” or “Is it fair to all involved?” Good questions, but the comprehensive question may be, “Is it wise?” In of your past experiences, your current situation, or your future goals, is it wise?
This question seems obvious, but how many disasters could we avoid—financially, relationally, spiritually, emotionally—if we had honestly asked and answered this insightful three-word question?
One day we may look at that sermon series, or perhaps we will cover it in a small group study, but today and for the next couple of weeks, I want us to look at godly wisdom in general as we “dip our toes” into the vast sea of wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs.
I will be drawing insights again from my dear friend, John David Walt of Seedbed, a depository of great theological depth from a Wesleyan perspective. You may recall that when we returned from Denver nearly a year ago, I gave a five-week series of messages on the Book of James largely inspired from J.D. I suggest that after completing this series, we will all be wiser and richer because of it. I’m calling this series, “Fool Proof.”
Overview of The Book of Proverbs
Proverbs are short sayings meant to convey wisdom and were distilled into these sayings to easily pass them on through parenting, mentoring and other forms of leadership and character development.
Proverbs abound in our lives. What are some of your favorites? “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” “A stitch in time saves nine.” “Look before your leap,” as opposed to “He who hesitates is lost.” One of my favorites is, “Many hands make light work.” Of course, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”! [By the way, none of these proverbs are found in the Bible to my knowledge.]
Here some things to note about the Book of Proverbs :
It belongs in the genre known as “wisdom literature” along with Job and Ecclesiastes.
The book is credited to King Solomon of Israel, who asked for wisdom when he became king.
He spoke 3,000 proverbs, most of which are NOT in this book
Since the Bible is the inspired Word of God, these selections of wisdom found in Proverbs are what the Holy Spirit intended for the people of God
Other servants of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, were also involved in producing Proverbs:
Chapters 25-29 are credited to a group of scholars in the days of King Hezekiah (700 BCE)
Chapter 30 mentions Agur, the son of Jakeh, and King Lemuel
King Solomon began his reign as a man of wisdom but ended his life practicing great folly by marrying hundreds of women in order to make alliances and accomplish his political goals and/or keep the kingdom peaceable.
There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, which makes a great tool for gaining spiritual wisdom each day of the month!
Our English word, “proverb,” may come from a compound to two Latin words: pro (“instead of”, or “on behalf of”) and verba (“words”); that is, a short statement that takes the place of many words.
Here’s an example: “Short reckonings make for long friendships” comes across with more power than a lecture on forgiving your friends.
The Hebrew word, “mashal” is translated “proverb,” “parable,” and even “allegory,” but its basic meaning is “a comparison.”
Many of Solomon’s proverbs are comparisons and contrasts. Try this on for size: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
Others have a poetic meter to them, like: “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths.” (5:21)
And others are just down right funny! “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” (21:9)
The purpose of Proverbs: WISDOM, INSTRUCTION, AND UNDERSTANDING
The word is “wise” and “wisdom” are used 125 times in Proverbs
Proverbs is about life and living in a sensible way.
The world was made by wisdom (since God is the wisest of us all) and those who follow wisdom (i.e., God) will find that the world fits them. It encourages our efforts.
It is virtuous, godly, and commonsensical.
Proverbs is a book for all races and all times
There is hardly any mention covenants, or worship practices, or even the holiness of the Lord
Even if one is not a follower of God and his Son, Jesus Christ, adherents to the instructions found in Proverbs will generally find their lives more enjoyable, prosperous even, and healthier.
So this morning I want us to begin looking at some wise principles found in Proverbs. We won’t have time to cover every chapter and verse, but let me suggest what J.D. Walt does every January: read one chapter a day. There are 31 chapters so at the end of a month you will have read every sage claim Solomon and the other writers make. (Okay, so today’s the 8th. If you begin reading a chapter today, then you will be done on Tuesday, February 7th.)
This morning’s thoughts come from Proverbs 1:20-23, which reads:
20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; 21 on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech. 22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.
While the words of wisdom, instruction, rebuke, and understanding are highly practical and helpful, the more important fact for the Christ-follower is they are the inspired Word of God. It’s absolutely amazing when you think about it. We have the inspired, distilled wisdom of God in the form of proverbs. THE WISDOM OF GOD HAS BEEN WRITTEN DOWN IN A BOOK. That’s what today’s text is getting at. The wisdom of God is readily available to all who want it.
20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square;
21 on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.
The wisdom of God is out in the open. It is public. The wisdom of God is not whispering some private revelation in the corner to a special class of people. No, the wisdom of God raises her voice in city center. And in case you missed wisdom there, she also cries out from the top of the city wall and at the city gate.
So if wisdom is this abundantly available, how do so many people miss it so badly? J.D. suggested a great reason, I think. For us to be able to listen and apply God’s wisdom, there has to be a certain quality of character needed. It’s a quality that we have spoken about in other contexts many times because it is one I think we all can benefit from its presence. That quality is HUMILITY.
Let’s look back a few verses where we get the proverb of all proverbs—the foundation on which all other proverbs stand. Commentator Warren Wersbe suggests it is the key to unlocking the entire book. Know what it is? Let’s read:
7The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Here’s one of those contrasts we talked about earlier. “The fear of the Lord,” which is used 18 times in Proverbs refers NOT to shear terror of something scary. It means, “reverent awe.” It means to respect God for being God—constantly being mindful of our place as “created” rather than “Creator”—to listen and obey what God says, knowing that it pleases God and is good for us.
Bringing this character trait of humility to a very practical outworking, the core requirement for becoming a wise person is teachability. We all know people who are not teachable. That’s not the question. The question is am I teachable? Even better, can I become more teachable?
In contrast, the fool is NOT teachable. Why, because they think they know everything…the epitome of prideful. Fools—the unwise—refuse to consider someone else’s suggestions or ideas. On a theological and spiritual level, fools figure they got the basic story of God, Jesus, and the Bible down enough to get through life. Fools don’t believe they can learn anything in a small group setting. “That’s just for touchy-feely women and emotionally weak men.” They never consider that—not only can God instruct them in the ways that lead to life—but that they may have something to offer the other members of the group. In short, the unwise lack the humility to be teachable.
Let’s consider one last passage of today’s text from this first chapter of Proverbs:
23Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
If humility is a characteristic of being teachable, then the pathway to humility is REPENTANCE. We discussed repentance during Advent. Repentance means to turn away from one thing and toward another. If we are going to be moldable and teachable when before we have insisted on flying by the seat of our pants, then it just makes sense that we have to turn from our old habits…our narrow-minded worldview where we are the center of all things, and turn toward reverent awe of the only Wise One who created all things and called them good.
This week, as you pray and read God’s Word, I challenge us to begin by confessing our former prideful-ness and our current need for God’s instruction. Let me offer three suggestions:
Pray for the courage to turn from old ways in this new year and make some changes in attitude and behavior that are not only wise, but enormously practical.
Commit to reading a proverb every day. Write down one piece of sage advice from Proverbs every day; then pray about how you can live into its truths.
Get involved in a small group of believers so that iron can sharpen iron (that’s a proverb too!). You can join “Boundaries,” or “Invitation,” a group from another church, or start your own. I’m happy to help!
PRAYZNMOR. Wisdom is shouting from the rooftops for all who will listen and respond. It takes a reverent awareness of our place with respect to God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (1:7) Failure to be teachable, at its core, is a pride issue.
The antidote is humility and the greatest Teacher of humility is Jesus himself, who humbled himself in obedience to the Father to become one of us, to live among us, to teach us the wisdom of God and his kingdom, and to demonstrate God’s profound love for us by giving his life on Calvary’s cross for our salvation from sin and death. Paul says that this Good News is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who believe, it is the wisdom of God and the power of God.
How about it? To be “fool proof” is to be “wisdom-filled.” May we find the wisdom of God in His Word and in His people inspired by His Holy Spirit SO THAT the world may know the power and wisdom of God in Christ Jesus. AMEN.