"The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding." (Proverbs 4:7)
I bought my first car in the '90s. It was a 1985 Chevy Cavalier. It was as basic as cars came, except for my awesome dash-mounted CD player with anti-skip and SUPER BASS.
Among the litany of problems I had with that car, the alignment was ridiculous. As I drove down the road, the severe angle of the steering wheel indicated that to let go was to head for the ditch. I could have fixed it of course, but here's the thing. I only paid $1000 for the car, so the price I was willing to pay to keep it in good repair was disturbingly low.
We've been exploring the wisdom literature in Proverbs at Redeemer. Proverbs often sound like an appeal to consider how our hearts and minds are out of alignment. And then presents God's wisdom as the way to bring us into true alignment – but it insists that our alignment comes at a cost.
Why do the Proverbs (like chapter 4 for example) present obtaining wisdom as a something that requires such passionate pursuit? We are saved by God's grace, apart from our work – so why does obtaining God's wisdom require such work?
In short, there is often a chasm between relating to life ways we consider natural and relating to life in ways God considers wise.
While we've been rescued by a one time act of God's grace, we are all being renewed by the ongoing work of God's grace. Our justification is one-and-done by the Son of God, whereas our sanctification – where wisdom lives – is still being done by the Spirit of God.
Wisdom is costly because it looks like responding to the complexities of our lives ways that God says are right, not in ways that we find most comfortable. Shifting our thoughts, words, and deeds from what comes to us naturally to what God defines as wise is a lifelong process because the goal of biblical wisdom is not to simply manage behavior and curb sinful desires – it's to have new desires. This is why you don't have to look very far in Proverbs before finding language that sounds like we're supposed to love wisdom, not merely intellectually assent to it and choose it. "Loving" language suggests something far deeper than behavior modification is at work.
The good news is that the Christian is not saved by God's power and then given the task of becoming wise by our own power. The same grace that rescued us, renews us.
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age," (Titus 2:11-12)
Augustine referred to the heart as the fundamental seat of our commitments, loves, and trusts. In Confessions, he wrote, "wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me." I hear you, Augustine – the heart is like an old 80's chevy, constantly pulling in a particular direction.
Proverbs continually invites the reader into prayerful reflection and mindful meditation on God's Word so that by the Spirit, our eyes can be opened to the driving forces and appetites in our hearts – so we can get a much-needed alignment.
Good News: by grace and through faith, Christ is united to you, and this union has rich implications for you.
Jesus is righteous by nature. We, however, are not righteous by nature – we are declared righteous by grace. This is important to remember. We have been given a new nature, but until the resurrection – our old nature remains. Thus, all Christians sin. To be righteous is to live in congruence with what God considers, true, just, loving, good, and right. United to Christ, He is our righteousness, and our union with Him brings with it the desire for His righteousness. We desire to bear our Father's resemblance because He sought us in grace. We live in imitation of the Son because He saved us in grace. We do this through the power of the Spirit, by grace.
Practically speaking, the wisdom of God flows from ongoing communion with God. Prayer and scripture meditation in our homes, gathering as the church for Word and sacrament – these are gifts that God has given to nourish us and foster His wisdom in us as His grace continually reorients us. How does this work?
Consider for a moment, the formative power of words. The reason we think what we think and do what we do is because we have believed and internalized words. Whether those words are that of our culture, our family or our own – we believe them, internalize them and act in accordance to them. The wisdom literature of Proverbs is constantly provoking us to consider, learn to love, and ultimately align with – God's words. This is a call to live our lives according to a new narrative. God's liberating, grace-drenched, gospel narrative.
As our identity is increasingly secured in God and our appetites are gradually renewed by God, we will be freed to realign and act in accordance with the wisdom of God – even if what God calls wisdom is stretching, uncomfortable or even counter-intuitive for us. Gradually, but inevitably, all those God saves in grace, He brings into greater and greater alignment with Him, by His grace.
"Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)
The gospel narrative tells us who we are in relation to God. It tells us what's right and just and true and loving according to the wisdom of God. The gospel narrative is so powerful, it realigns us and re-envisions us. The gospel dissipates our anxiety & worry like the sun burns away the fog because it declares that our life and our future is secure in the hands of God.
The wisdom of God is not merely an ancient, written word – it's a living Word.
Wisdom is knowledge – applied.
The life of Christ is God's wisdom – applied.
Wisdom is taking precepts, bringing them down to earth and living them out in reality.
Jesus is God, come to earth, living out God's gracious wisdom in reality.
Fools got crucified because they did something foolish. The gospel announces that in God's wisdom, He made a way to save fools. Jesus took the place of us fools. Jesus took what we deserved, and in the end, we will get what He deserves.
You will become wise, and your children will become wise – not by merely accepting the principles of God, but by loving the Person of God. As we gather together to worship and marvel at Jesus, the more we will desire to be changed by Him, align ourselves to Him and grow in our imitation of Him – because by grace we are united to Him.