Dear radio friends,
Today we intend to apply God’s Word to our calling as His children to gain knowledge and wisdom in the Word of God. The passage before us in Proverbs does that in a way that we can readily apply to our calling to exercise ourselves in God’s Word.
We consider the Word of God as it is recorded in Proverbs 1:7. Solomon writes there: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Many of the proverbs Solomon gives us apply well to our need for instruction in the Word of God. But that is especially true in this first chapter. Solomon points out in verse 4, for example, that the very intent of all of the proverbs he speaks is “to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.” In verse 8 he also gives the command to “hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.” So we find that Solomon is certainly concerned with imparting to us a godly knowledge and wisdom. And it is this that we focus our attention upon today, too. It is knowledge and wisdom that are, after all, true ornaments to a godly person.
The verse that we consider uses three terms that are closely related to each other. In fact, one is not possible without the others. These three terms are: knowledge, instruction, and wisdom. If we were to take a close look at these terms, we would find that all of them speak of a different aspect or step in the gaining of knowledge.
The first of these terms, “knowledge,” speaks of what we must attain or desire. This is what we must crave: knowledge, or intelligence. The second term, “instruction,” speaks of the way we are to attain unto such knowledge, that is, by way of instruction. The third term, “wisdom,” refers to the goal or end of our knowledge, that is the ability to be wise.
Let us take a close look at these words.
The first of these terms is knowledge. This term refers to the fact that you and I, as God’s people, are required by God to gain knowledge. It is not enough to say we are believers but to sit in spiritual ignorance. We are to apply ourselves to attain to knowledge or intelligence. Of course, that will indeed vary from one individual to the next. Some are more naturally capable than others to attain to a higher degree of knowledge and understanding of this world. That is a given. We know that. Neither may we despise the child of God to whom God has not given as much ability as another. In fact, as we will find, sometimes these can have greater wisdom, though their knowledge is not as great as another’s.
But the point of Solomon here is that it is our calling to gain a knowledge and understanding of the world that we live in, in order that we can be wise. Certainly this is something that needs emphasis today, especially as we stand at the beginning of another year of school and another year of Bible studies. You see, though there is much stress placed on knowledge in the sphere of the academics today, that same stress does not carry over into the realm of the spiritual. There is much stress in our society, for example, on gaining knowledge of numbers and equations and formulas. There is much stress placed on a gaining of the knowledge of science and language. But when it comes to the objective knowledge of what is truth and, in that connection, who is God and Christ and so on, it is thought that no knowledge is necessary at all. Religion, spirituality, it is contended, is not at all a matter of objective knowledge.
When the world speaks of the fact that our society is becoming more spiritual, it means by that that man is becoming more concerned with his inner feelings. Man is becoming more enamored by questions of what constitutes morality, or is there a life after death, or is there a realm of spiritual beings such as angels or spirits that are not ascertained by our senses. These types of matters are of a spiritual nature, and when one thinks about these and attempts to give answers to these, then he is considered a spiritual person. But it is also maintained by most in our society that there are no objective answers to these questions, as every man has to answer them for himself by means of introspection, that is, by simply reflecting on what his own heart desires to say about these matters. Unbelieving analysts, psychologists, sociologists today contend that the various religions offer their answers but none of them really can give us objective truth. Truth is a matter of opinion.
For that reason, our understanding of these spiritual matters is not gained by learning objective truths but simply by means of meditation. A man can gain his own personal answers to these questions only by looking into his heart and determining what he feels about them. Sad to say, this is exactly the direction that much of Christianity is headed today. Faith would be defined as break-through experience with God. Faith is not so much a certain knowledge as it is a warm, fuzzy inner feeling of contact with God in Christ. If I’m moved by a dynamic speaker or by means of a musical group so that I have this personal feeling about God in Christ, that automatically gives me salvation. I need have no other objective knowledge about God, about who man is, about Christ, about salvation. Faith is a feeling that moves me to accept Christ. In fact, it is claimed by many a church leader today that objective knowledge will only push members to draw away from Christ and will only serve to divide Christians. It is for this reason that so many churches today have no real solid instruction in the objective truths of the Bible. These are seen as unnecessary and even a hindrance to a true knowledge of God.
Well, the result of that is that there is a widespread ignorance of the Bible and what it teaches. The church world of today does not care what God teaches us regarding right and wrong. Many never pick up their Bibles to learn what God says to us, and yet they call themselves Christians. In distinction from this, this passage of God’s Word assumes to be fact that the child of God must be a person of knowledge. He must know objective truth, by knowing the Word of God and everything it teaches.
This knowledge must be imparted to the child of God. This verse speaks of, not simply knowledge, but instruction. This is a rather general term that refers to all instruction; that given by teaching, by example, by correction. But the emphasis falls on instruction. You and I, in order to gain knowledge of God, the knowledge of man in his sin, the knowledge of Christ and salvation, must be instructed. We must submit ourselves to that instruction. We must learn. We must be students.
And that instruction certainly includes, first of all, instruction in things academic, things secular. We need to learn about God’s creation in science. We need to learn to read and write in order to be able to read and express to others what we know about our God. We need to learn logic. We need to learn the order of God in creation, in math. We need to learn history, in order that we can understand how God is leading and directing all things to His own determinate end.
Knowledge is necessary. We must apply ourselves to the gaining of that knowledge. Not simply because this is the only way we will get ahead in society. We learn it because all of this deals with God, and the natural laws that He has established in His creation. It is a part of our calling to have dominion over creation.
Now, certainly, we cannot ignore the logical conclusion in this. Even academics, secular education, education in the various spheres of study, must be God-centered. The type of instruction that is God-centered will be found in a Christian school.
But this learning also, and more importantly, includes learning the objective truths of God’s Word in the church. When we sit in the catechism room or the Sunday School room or when we sit together in church, it is not simply to listen to some theological treatise. In fact, the preaching we receive in church is of vital concern to our souls. It is specialized instruction. It is education, instruction in the very Word of God itself, and it is instruction, therefore, that carries with it the very power of God unto salvation.
That is true because, you see, the goal of all knowledge, and therefore of all instruction, is wisdom. Knowledge, instruction, and wisdom. Here is the third word that Solomon uses. Wisdom is the ability to take the knowledge that we have learned and be able to apply that knowledge in given circumstances in life. It is not only head-knowledge, you understand, but it is the skill to use that head-knowledge to fulfill a practical purpose in our lives. A mechanic can have learned everything about an engine from the books that he reads and studies. But if that same mechanic is not able to handle a socket wrench or a ratchet or whatever tool is necessary, then he is not very wise. Though he has a headful of knowledge, he is not able to put that knowledge into practical use.
We must be spiritually wise. We must be those who are able to take God’s Word and the knowledge that we have of it and to use it in a very practical way in our lives, applying that Word of God to lead us in a way that is pleasing unto God in this world.
Wisdom is, therefore, the goal or the end of knowledge and instruction. It is only by the means of wisdom that we are able to further ourselves properly in this world, to take God’s Word in hand and be able to use it, to make proper, godly decisions in life.
Are you being taught such wisdom in church? Are your children being taught that proper wisdom in the school they attend?
Solomon states a fact. Fools are those who despise knowledge, instruction, and wisdom. A man who is wise, on the other hand, appreciates all these. No, a man who desires to be wise is one who craves knowledge and instruction. And that is the calling, therefore, that we have as God’s children in this world. We must crave knowledge and wisdom in order that we might be wise in this world.
Children, young people, who are listening, do you crave that knowledge? Fools despise instruction, remember. To despise something is to hold it in contempt, to belittle it, to scorn it, as if it holds no value at all. I know that at times children like to bemoan the fact that they have to apply themselves to their studies. I know how that goes. I know how that goes from my own experience. I used to be that way too, as a child. I have not forgotten that. But the Word of God is plain enough here. You children and young people are to apply yourselves to your schoolwork, not simply because it is beneficial from an earthly point of view, but because it is beneficial from a spiritual point of view. All knowledge is a gift of God. And the more we know of God and how He works in creation and history, the more we become wise.
Such knowledge and instruction we ought never to despise. It is invaluable to us when it comes to our knowledge of God. This is why education from a Christian, and more particularly from a Reformed perspective, is a necessity. You see, craving knowledge, instruction, and wisdom ought to be the greatest concern for us as God’s children. We ought never to neglect that instruction in whatever way we might receive it. We are taught when we take the Bible in hand as individuals. We are taught when our parents instruct us in the homes. That instruction ought never to be neglected. We are taught when we hear the preaching, when we attend catechism or Sunday School class, and when we as fellow believers gather around God’s Word to study it. So strong must be our craving for knowledge in the truths of God’s Word that we must live for it. We must center our lives in it. We must make it a priority in our lives. Learning God’s Word takes a back seat to nothing. All other education, all other matters of life, and, especially, all our fun must never detract from our desire to learn of God and of His Word.
And all of this is true because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. That is what Proverbs 1:7 states here. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” What that means is that the foundation of all true knowledge and wisdom, the root of all pure instruction, is the fear of Jehovah.
In practical terms this means that all the knowledge and instruction and wisdom of the world mean nothing. It is not worth a dime if it is not rooted in the fear of the Lord. Everything that we learn and therefore come to know, the wisdom by which we apply the knowledge we learn—it means nothing if it does not center in God. The worldly wisdom that is earthly and sensual, that is imparted to so many millions of students, the knowledge of so many scholars—it has no lasting spiritual value whatsoever.
We say that, of course, because none of it is rooted in the fear of the Lord. It all comes down to this question: Do you fear God? Do you know Jehovah, the sovereign ruler of heaven and earth? Do you know of His power and greatness? Do you see this creation around us and know that it is God who has made it? Do you see His hand in history directing all things to His own end? Do you ascribe the natural order of all things to Him in your reading and writing? Do you know the Word of God, which is Christ, the Word made flesh? Do you see the unchangeable and almighty hand of God in all these things? If not, then all your learning is to no avail. It is worthless and it dies right along with you.
But when we do see Jehovah in all of this, then knowledge, instruction, and wisdom are invaluable. The fear of Jehovah gives impetus to our learning. It gives us a reason to learn, a reason to gain knowledge. And that is true because the fear of God is a deep reverence for Him, a deep, reverential awe of God. There is no God like unto our God. He alone is great and greatly to be praised. He holds the earth’s deep places in His hands; He holds back the waters from flowing over the earth; He stretches out the heavens as a curtain. Who is like unto our God? We stand before Him with fear and trembling. We hold Him in highest esteem. We bow before Him and worship Him. Do you have that fear of God? That is the foundation of all learning. If we ignore that in our schooling; if we ignore that in our catechism and Sunday School and in the preaching; if we ignore that in our Bible studies this year—then all of these things become worthless.
Fear God. That is the heart of all true knowledge and instruction. Why? Because one cannot truly be wise without it. Oh, we might be able to succeed in this present world. We may be the greatest of scholars or businessmen or what have you, but we are not wise. On the contrary, we are foolish, because we do not order our lives after the Word of God.
It is that knowledge and instruction and wisdom that have value unto eternal life. And, after all, that is what really counts. It does not matter if one reaches the top in this world of sin. What matters is whether all this knowledge and instruction and wisdom is unto eternal life. The fear of the Lord does this, because, you see, the fear of the Lord is true wisdom. The fear of God is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. And that knowledge is unto eternal life.
This is true because in all reality Christ is wisdom. He is the wisdom of God, as we are told in I Corinthians 1:30. It is for Christ that all things are made. All of God’s eternal plan for all of His creation centers in Christ. It is in Christ that God fulfills His purpose to save to Himself a people for the glory of His own name. To be wise, therefore, really means to have Christ.
Get wisdom by getting Christ. Christ alone lends purpose and value to everything we do and everything we learn, because Christ alone saves from sin and imparts to us the fear of God.
Now, what will it be? Are we going to be wise, or are we going to be fools? That is the question. Are we going to forget God in all our learning? Are we going to amass knowledge unto ourselves and ignore the obvious: the fear of God? Then we are fools. Are we going to pass by the chance to learn of God in our studies and in our labors in the church and in the school? Or are we going to learn all things because we fear God? If we do, then we are wise. And that wisdom is unto salvation.
Let us pray.
Gracious and eternal Father, we thank Thee for Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who is wisdom. We pray that Thou wilt give unto us the salvation in Christ, that we might walk in wisdom before Thee. We pray that by means of our salvation we might understand knowledge, and that we might receive instruction in order that we might be wise in this world. We thank Thee for Thy Son. We thank Thee for Thy Word. May we study that Word in every way possible in our lives, that we might be well equipped as Christians. For Jesus’ sake we ask these things, Amen.