Saturday, June 16, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (11)

Some people never learn from experience. Proverbs 1 talks about two of those: the scoffer and the fool.

Others learn only through negative examples, either by charging in and doing it wrong themselves the first time, or by watching others fail. That’s better than never learning at all, but for those who only learn from their own mistakes, it’s somewhat like bellyflopping your way through life. Every bad landing hurts more than the last one.

A third sort of person is well aware they know less about life than they would like, and therefore looks for guidance.

A list of specific, negative examples will not suffice for these folks: they seek out or even deduce life principles that can be applied across all sorts of different situations, in order than many common mistakes need not be made at all.

Someone to Share Wisdom With

Raise enough children, and even when you do it to the best of your ability before God, you may still find you have one or more who operate primarily in the first two categories. One of the saddest possible outcomes for a parent is to have accumulated wisdom only to find you have nobody in your family sufficiently teachable that you can share it with them.

Israel’s great King David took his best shot at passing on what he had learned, and his son Solomon did likewise, though the failure of Rehoboam’s kingdom is evidence not all the advice his father gave him was processed perfectly. Of Solomon’s other children we know next to nothing; how they fared we cannot say. But good advice is good advice, whether or not it is taken.

5. A Father’s Endorsement of Wisdom (Proverbs 4:1-27)

Not a Tautology

In repeating his father David’s advice to his own sons, Solomon starts with something so simple it seems like it should barely need stating:
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”
It sounds almost tautological, but there’s an insight there we shouldn’t let slip by, and that’s this: wisdom doesn’t just happen.

Consider the three types of person I mentioned in our introduction. In the case of the fool or the scoffer (Type 1), wisdom doesn’t happen at all. All the experience in the world teaches such a person nothing useful. The scoffer rejects wisdom outright and the fool, always distracted, invariably has a ‘better’ idea he wants to try first.

The Type 2 person only recognizes wisdom after seeing a mistake made. “Oh, better not do that again,” he says to himself. The “simple” person from Proverbs 1 falls into this category. He is a work in progress, and it remains to be seen whether he will go on to become more than he currently is.

Type 3 is the person who: (1) values wisdom (“prize her highly”, “love her”); (2) seeks it out (“get wisdom”); (3) retains it (“do not forget”, “hold fast”, “do not let go”); and (4) applies it as required throughout life (“avoid”, “do not enter”). All these are active steps. They do not occur by osmosis. Thus two men may observe the same moral catastrophe occur in real time. One learns from it, the other does not.

Three Benefits of Seeking Wisdom

For the one who does learn, the benefits are great indeed:
  • Honor, exaltation, a graceful garland and a beautiful crown (v8-9). The same end result is described in various ways, but the point is that at the end of your life, people will be able to look at who you were and what you did and say, “I’d like to be like that. That’s an example I’d like to follow.” You may or may not be rich or successful, but discerning people will recognize a life lived well.
  • Long life (v10). This remains true today. If advice like “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite” applies less literally in a democracy, we can certainly still learn to prolong our stay on earth by avoiding things like bad companions, crime and too much alcohol.
  • You will avoid major mistakes (v12). Our company once loaned an egregiously incompetent local customer service rep to the Hong Kong office. She was promptly put on a plane back home, and our relationship with our co-workers across the ocean took years to return to normal. Solomon may have expressed it more graphically (“Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence”), but it remains true that some principles transcend time and place.
Paths of Wickedness and Righteousness

Verses 14 through 19 compare the “path of the wicked” and the “path of the righteous”. It is often thought that we can dabble in sin and remain the same people. This is not the case. Wickedness is a life path, not an interruption in one’s regularly scheduled programming.

I remember watching a movie years ago that told the story of a young couple in love that wanted to get rich. In order to do so, they cut some corners and committed a crime they thought would hurt nobody, only to find that covering it up negatively transformed every aspect of their lives, including their relationship to each other and to their families. It rang horribly true.

Proverbs says wickedness is not some momentary diversion but a path, a lifestyle. You come to eat and drink it (v17). You cannot sleep unless you entice others to live the same way (v16). You lose your moral moorings and cannot tell right from wrong (v18). Righteousness is also a path, but a path in which your way is clear and you may avoid catastrophe. It’s not unlikely the Lord Jesus had this section of Proverbs in mind when he spoke of the narrow way that leads to life and the broad way that leads to destruction.

Oh Be Careful!

Likewise, the next section probably inspired the old Sunday School song that starts with the words “O be careful little eyes what you see.” The wise father sums up his advice to his son by giving four commands to four different parts of his being:
  • Heart: Keep your heart with all vigilance (v23). “From it flow the springs of life,” says Proverbs. “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks,” the Lord Jesus taught. And again, “You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” Everything starts with the heart. Deal with that, and the rest is a piece of cake.
  • Mouth: Put away crooked speech (v24). Honesty is not only the best policy, it’s the only consistent, morally affirming way to live. Give your conscience some peace and allow your intellect to work on issues more important than which lie you told to whom.
  • Eyes: Let your eyes look directly forward (v25). Be careful little eyes. I read somewhere yesterday that up to 50% of evangelical men struggle with an internet porn addiction. Solomon says, “Let your gaze be straight before you.” Don’t be diverted from the right way. The things you allow yourself to contemplate affect the very source of your being and everything that flows from it.
  • Feet: Turn your foot away from evil (v26). “Do not swerve to the right or the left.” I suspect the reference is not political, but it’s certainly relevant. The righteous path is certainly narrow, but we stumble because we step off it, not because we are walking in it.
Most of human existence is encompassed in these four commands, and the wise man attends to his entire being.

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