Tag: ancient wisdom

Ancient Wisdom

As a study of the book of Proverbs, he next three Bible studies are designed to go together.

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Reliable Advice

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to God

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to Others

Ancient Wisdom for Today: Reliable Advice

In the second half of the 20th century, there were two very popular newspaper advice columns. Ask Ann Landers lasted the longest. Using the fictional pen name of Ann Landers, Ruth Crowley started writing the column in 1943. It was picked up by Eppie Lederer in 1955 and lasted until 2002. Eppie’s twin sister, Pauline Phillips, introduced Dear Abby in 1955. That column ran until 1995.

Readers of these columns were so loyal they continued to ask newspapers to run the columns even after the writers had retired. The archives of these advice columnists can be found online. Query quotes from these columnists and you will find many.

These ladies may have done considerable research in order to respond to the letters they received, but in the end, the advice they gave was personal opinion. Some of the advice resulted in controversy and an occasional loss of a sponsoring newspaper. The clamor for continued columns, however, reveals that people are looking for answers to life’s issues and a credible source for those answers.

The only reliable source of guidance lies in the one place where advice is totally trustworthy – God’s word. An online search of the word proverb will reveal excerpts from the Bible accredited as a societal proverb. Some people are not even aware they are quoting from scripture. Although all of scripture has relevancy to how a person lives, perhaps the most quoted portion of the Bible is Proverbs.

Perhaps this is true because most societies have their own proverbs – short sayings that contain some traditionally held belief. The Touchpoint Bible notes that a biblical proverb is

not a law of God (which must be followed) or a promise of God (which guarantees a certain result). A proverb is a general principle that, if followed, applies to most people in most situations. While the desired result may not always occur in your life, the course of action suggested in the proverb is always the right thing to do.

The key to understanding the difference between a proverb of a people and the proverbs of the Bible are “traditionally held” beliefs. Noted above, a biblical proverb suggests a course of action that is always the right thing to do. In a societal proverb, the principles are traditional, but not necessarily correct – such as a watched pot never boils; all’s fair in love and war and children should be seen and not heard. Some people even believe they are quoting scripture when they are actually quoting a traditional saying, such as God helps those who help themselves.

And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding…He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five (1 Kings 4:29, 32).

Known as the wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon wrote most of the book of Proverbs – around eight hundred of them. Before he became king, God told him He would grant any wish he had. Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. Not only was he known for his wisdom and his more than three thousand proverbs, there was also total peace during his reign.

Solomon did not always take his own advice. He did not stay true to his own promise to be wholly devoted to the Lord (he allowed his many wives to lead him into idolatry) and his reign ended the golden days of Israel. After his death, the kingdom was divided and the glory days were over.

Nevertheless, Solomon’s proverbs were inspired by God. His proverbs and those of the others who contributed to the biblical book of Proverbs still lead us to contrast the differences between wise people and foolish people. The principles contained in the proverbs apply to every area of life – political, ethical, business, familial and personal. God centered wisdom is the best source for advice.

Although Proverbs is not a book of manners, it has a great deal to say about how to be gracious in your speech and your actions dealing with all relationships: strangers, neighbors, friends and family.

Proverbs deals with aspects of a person’s relationship to God and others. Many themes are scattered throughout the book. In a detailed search of my own, eight common themes were discovered. Four themes relate to our vertical relationship to God and four others pertain to our horizontal relationships with others.

  • The Wise Person Fears God
  • The Wise Person Strives to Understand
  • The Wise Person Obeys the Commandments
  • The Wise Person Accepts Discipline
  • The Wise Person Stands Upright
  • The Wise Person Watches His Words
  • The Wise Person Cares for Others
  • The Wise Person Works but Leaves the Results to God

Answers to life’s questions are found in God’s word. A reliable source for advice can be found in Proverbs.

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to God

The Wise Person Fears God 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).

The word fear has two very distinct definitions. The most common use is that of anxious concern or dread – being afraid. The other is to venerate – to have reverential awe.

These two forms of the word fear occur throughout the Bible and frequently in the book of Proverbs. The foundational principle for Proverbs is the fear of God. Proverbs 1:1-6 tells why the book was written. The next verse describes how all wisdom begins – with the fear of God.

Although God deserves our reverential awe, disrespect toward Him abounds. As if He is on call to do our bidding and supply our every desire, He is often referred to as the Man Upstairs or the Great Father in the Sky. Worse still, His name often comes in front of a curse word.

A.W. Tozer, who wrote The Knowledge of the Holy, states, “the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts that are unworthy of Him.”

Anyone visiting the President of the United States, the Queen of England or any other national head of state would first be taught the proper protocol to exercise while in their presence. This would include how to dress, what to say and what not to say. No one would expect otherwise.

Yet many argue that God’s protocol is unjust. Anyone wanting to stand in His presence must come with clean hands and a pure heart – obtained only through Jesus Christ. In His parable of the wedding feast, the man without the proper wedding garment was cast away into darkness. Access to God came at a high price – the price of His Son. Jesus provided the pure white garments for us.

God knows our hearts and whether we respect Him. By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy and before all the people I will be honored (Leviticus 10:3 NAS).

The wonder of a proper fear of God is that it results in removing fear of everything else. If you fear God, you need fear nothing else. John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, put it this way, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

For further study:

Underline “fear of the Lord” throughout Proverbs and discuss the verses.

Compare the two types of fear in the following verses: Psalm 27:1, Proverbs 3:24, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7, 1 John 4:1

The Wise Person Strives to Understand 

The knowledge of the Holy is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

Knowledge without understanding is like a car without gas. The possibility is great, but the missing element is essential.

At some point in every person’s life, there are questions to be answered. Who is God? Who am I? What is the purpose of my life?

The wisdom book of Proverbs states its purpose from the very beginning. In the first six verses of chapter one, the word understanding appears three times. There are only five chapters in the book (Proverbs has thirty one chapters) where understand or understanding does not appear. In the chapters where it does appear, many have multiple entries.

Understand or understanding is used either in the positive as a wise person who understands or the negative as in a foolish person who lacks understanding. It is clear that it takes work to understand life. The easy, lazy way of life leads to a lack of understanding.

Ordinarily, we associate understanding with our mind – our intellectual discernment. However, God examines our hearts, knows our hearts and judges our hearts. In the Bible, the heart is equal to the seat of our emotions, our inner being, who we really are. Often in Proverbs, the wise person is instructed to apply your heart to understanding. If our understanding were only intellectual, we might not apply the principles we have learned for service.

In order to answer the questions of life, we must get to know the one who created us. We need to get to know God. There is no one like Him.

There are some excellent resources to help us understand the nature of God and His attributes. My favorites are The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer and Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

The primary source is God’s Word itself. Tozer advises us to throw away every comparison word like trait, characteristic or quality when we think of God. We cannot know everything about God, but we can discover those things He has chosen to reveal about Himself. Then, and only then, can we answer the questions, “Who am I” and “What is my purpose?” Those answers are tied to who God is, what He has done for us and what His plan is.

For further study highlight every time “understand” or “understanding” appears in Proverbs discussing the positive and negative implications.

The Wise Person Obeys God 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

One of the first words most children learn is “no.” Human nature resists rules. For his own good, however, parents need to set limits for their child. Playing in the fenced yard is OK. Playing in the street is not.

A parent’s responsibility is to help God mold the character of his child. A compassionate parent is also one that is in control. Even when a child does not yet understand the rules set by his parents (never touch a stovetop, don’t run with scissors), he should be confident that there is good reason for them.

The child can trust his father to know what is best.  Rules are boundaries for character development and protection.

Laws in society are similarly put in place for protection. When they are no longer in place, human nature often takes over with disastrous results. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans gave us a glimpse of what that was like.

Jesus is the only human being who obeyed His Father’s commandments completely. He willingly submitted Himself to our human limitations. As a Man, He learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8) and set an example for us.

His perfect life and sacrificial death released us from the bondage of the law. The law itself is good, but since we are incapable of obeying it perfectly, it was a bondage to us. Jesus’ gift of grace made reconciliation to God possible.

As Christians, we should trust God. We see in His laws His hand of guidance and protection. Jesus fulfilled the law for us and summarized all that it represented in His new commandment to love one another as He loves us.

Believers are to be in submission, not under bondage. There is a difference. We are free in Christ. Submission is voluntary. Bondage is not.

We should look at the commandments of God like a child views the instruction of his parents. The boundaries and guidelines are for our protection and our growth.

For further study, highlight all the passages in Proverbs concerning law and commandments. Compare the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) with these passages in Proverbs. Examine how disobeying the commandments can harm your Christian life and witness.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)

The Wise Person Accepts Discipline 

For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:12).

Discipline and punishment are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. When someone sees a child acting rudely in a public place, you might hear her say, “I wish his parents would discipline that child.” What she often means is that she expects the parent to punish them for their bad behavior.

Punishment carries the idea of inflecting a penalty for an offense. Discipline is training someone to obey a code of behavior. Discipline may include a spanking after an infraction if that is needed, but never with the intent of harm or with anger. Correction and instruction are the goals. Depending on the child’s personality, a conversation about the offense or removal from the store may have the same effect as a spanking would for another child.

The root of discipline is also the word for a follower of Christ: disciple. Aids to spiritual growth are often called spiritual disciplines. Discipline is the voluntary mental and active submission to God’s will. A disciplined Christian can disciple other believers.

Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, the Path to Spiritual Growth says, “The classical disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths.” He lists spiritual disciplines as: inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, study); outward disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission, service) and corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance, celebration). He carefully warns against turning any spiritual discipline into law.

Spiritual discipline is connected with the idea of guidance and correction. Just as a loving father corrects his child in order for him to develop a good character, God lovingly guides, corrects and instructs, knowing that when one of his children has willingly received his correction, he is able to help others.

The disciplined believer is:

  • Loved of God (Proverbs 3:11-12, 13-13).
  • Living according to God’s standards (Proverbs 6:20-23).
  • Listening to God speak (Proverbs 1:1-7; 13:1; 15:5, 31; 25:12)
  • Learning every day (Proverbs 9:8-9; 10:8; 12:1; 13:18; 15:32; 25:12)
  • Leading others to do the same. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching (2 Timothy 4:2 NLT).

Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction that you may be wise in the time to come (Proverbs 19:20 Amplified).

© Stephanie B. Blake

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Ancient Wisdom for Today: Relating to Others

His secret counsel is with the upright (Proverbs 3:32 NKJV).

His confidential communion and secret counsel are with the [uncompromisingly] righteous [those that are upright and in right standing with Him] (Proverbs 3:32 Amplified).

Many a mother has counseled her daughter to stand up straight. To improve posture, a young girl might walk through her home with a stack of books on her head. In that upright position, it is impossible to look down or to the left or to the right without toppling the books. Her gaze must be forward. Her concentration is straight ahead.

Standing erect is not only good for your posture. It is imperative for your spiritual life. Those who are upright are disciplined in righteousness, justice and integrity.

The definition of upright is an object that is vertical or erect or a person that is honorable or honest. In the Amplified Bible, the word upright is often translated as consistently or uncompromisingly righteous, one who walks uprightly, in right standing with God or moral and spiritual rectitude in every area and relation.

An upright person is not perfect, but focused. Occasionally the books will fall. The posture of a focused Christian will improve with time and practice. The more determined one is to love God and please Him, the more disciplined he will be.

Every failure or sin is a lesson learned. Don’t go there again. When you are down, look up at God. Ask for His forgiveness and accept it. Mary Pickford, 1873-1979, said, “You may have a fresh start any time you chose, for this thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

After a Christian has sinned and asked for forgiveness, Satan loves to keep him wallowing in guilt, refusing to feel forgiven. God knows we will fall yet He is righteous and just to forgive us our sin – through His Son.

The upright godly person walks with wisdom, looking forward, considering the steps of the path before him and is determined not to let distractions turn him aside from the path God has chosen for him.

With eyes forward, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

For further study, highlight every passage in Proverbs with relevant meanings of “upright.” Compare these with the New Testament armor found in Ephesians 6:10-13 – focusing on the breastplate of righteousness.

The Wise Person Watches His Speech

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Quarreling children on a playground sometimes say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That saying is not true. Relationships have been crushed and lives have been destroyed because of words. Even in America, where the law clearly declares one innocent until proven guilty, the mere accusation of a crime can ruin a life.

Scripture is full of admonition to be careful with our words. It is a recurrent theme in such books as Proverbs in the Old Testament and James in the New.

One of the best examples of a godly man who did not sin with his mouth was Job. At the end of his trials and the conclusion of the book of Job, God addresses the so-called friends who gave Job advice throughout his experiences. He was angry at them because they did not speak of Him what was right, as His servant Job had. Those friends were saved only through the prayers of Job, a righteous man before God.

Isaiah’s vision convicted him that he and his people were guilty of unclean lips. Jesus said that what a man says comes out of the overflow of his heart. Paul advised the Ephesian church to refrain from unwholesome speech and only say those things that would build others up. James warned Christians to be slow to speak and slow to anger.

The contrasts between proper and improper speech are plentiful in the book of Proverbs. For instance:

  • When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is not wise (10:19)
  • He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity (22:23).
  • Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue (17:28)

These verses might lead those who are naturally quiet to think that being godly is easier because they don’t talk a lot. However, the Bible does not say that God is pleased only with silence. He wants us to use our tongues to witness (Romans 10:14), confess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:11), give God thanks (Colossians 3:17), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

For further study, search through Proverbs for the contrasts of good and evil speech. There are seven sets of these in chapter 10 alone.

Two of the Ten Commandments deal directly with speech. Compare these with other verses about the tongue.

The Wise Person Cares for Others 

A body of water with no inlet or outlet becomes a stagnant, insect-infested pond. Without living water flowing in and out, the result is not only unattractive and uncomfortable but unhealthy as well.

A healthy Christian life includes service to others. Jesus not only said that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything you are, but to love others as you love yourself. He gave His closest disciples a new commandment to love each other just as He had loved them.

There is no place for a self-absorbed Christian in God’s family. Jesus warned against keeping your light under a bushel or neglecting to become salt in a world that desperately needs it. Vital, living Christianity flows with the Living Water of the One who gave His life for ours.

Satan does not care how much you theorize about Christianity or how much you profess to know Christ. What he opposes vigorously is the way you live for Christ – the way you become an instrument of mercy, compassion, and love through which He manifests Himself to the world.

Mother Teresa said, “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have been done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’”

Throughout the book of Proverbs, a common theme is caring for others. It described gracious, merciful, generous people who are concerned about the needs of others and extend their hands to help them. The old saying, “What goes around comes around” can be applied in the positive sense as well as the negative. The unexpected consequence of helping others is the blessings you receive when you do. Proverbs says that a caring person attains honor, does himself good, will be prosperous, happy, blessed, and will himself be watered and kindness and truth will come to him.

Paul instructed the church in Rome to receive Phoebe and assist her for “she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Romans 16:1-2). Name the ways God has cared for you. Can you model that same kind of care to others?

For further study examine these verses in Proverbs about caring for others.

  • Family and close friends: See 11:16, 11:17, 11:25, 11:26, 14:21, 14:22, 22:9, 24:23-25.
  • Neighbors: Proverbs 11:9, 11:12, 14:21a, 24:29, 25:8-10, 26:17-19, 29:5
  • Poor: 4:21b, 14:31; 17:5, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9, 22:22, 24:29, 28:27, 29:7, 29:14, 31:8-9, 31:20
  • Enemies: 6:7, 20:22, 24:17, 24:19, 24:23-25, 25:19-21

The Wise Person Works and Leaves the Results to God 

…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…We are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, you are God’s building (Philippians 1:6, 1 Corinthians 3:9).

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That is how Proverbs begins. It ends with a description of a godly woman. Because she fears God, this woman will bear fruit and her own works will praise her in the gates. In Old Testament times, the men gathered in the gates for daily conversation. This woman’s husband was well known and sat with the other leaders in the city gate. His wife made him proud.

This truth is carried out in Jesus’ teaching. When you reflect His light, others will see your good works and the Father will be glorified. A child of God who makes the Father proud is someone who trusts Him in every area of life. His life and his work testify that He loves God and fears Him.

The universal human questions: who is God, who am I, what is my purpose are answered in this context. God is all in all and deserves my respect. I am His creation and His child (if I am a believer). My purpose is to do His will and glorify His name.

Some confuse work with their vocation or the job they have. Whatever a believer does, he should do well, for he serves the Lord Jesus. A Christian should be the best employee in a company. A vocation is only part of your life, however. Your work encompasses not only your profession but every area of life.

How to approach work is a common thread throughout the book of Proverbs. It addresses the need to be diligent in your work or to pay steady, constant attention to what you are called to do.

A book of contrasts, Proverbs instructs sluggards to consider the ways of ants. Consider this humorous comparison between these small creatures: ants and slugs. Ants are instinctively productive workers. People have a choice.

For further study, see Proverbs 10:4-5, 12:11, 12:24, 12:27, 13:4, 21:5, 22:29, 24:27, 28:19 in conjunction with Colossians 3:17-24 and Ephesians 6:7-8 in light of being diligent in your work.

To contrast diligence and laziness, see Proverbs 6:6-9; 10:26, 19:15, 19:24, 20:4, 20:13, 21:17, 21:25,22:13, 24:30-34, 26:14-16, 30:24-28.

Examine these verses in light of honoring the Lord and sowing righteousness with your lifestyle and productivity: Proverbs 3:9, 10:16, 11:18, 11:28, 12:12, 16:8, 31:20-31

Summary of Ancient Wisdom for Today 

He who gains wisdom loves his own life (Proverbs 19:8 Amplified). 

The wise person accepts God’s love.

He fears God, strives to understand, obeys the commandments and accepts discipline.

The wise person reflects God’s love.

He stands upright, watches his words, cares for others and works according to God’s plan for his life.

The wise person trusts in God and leaves the results to Him.

God judges our attitude and our work. He rewards the wise person who honors Him and does His will. The rewards are earthly and eternal.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord… So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12, 1 Corinthians 15:58).

© Stephanie B. Blake

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