Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Proverbs, chapter 10.
Proverbs is a book of wisdom. We don’t talk a lot about wisdom in our day—we talk about spiritual leading instead, or legalism—we want God to tell us what to do, not teach us how to think for ourselves and walk wisely. But much of the Bible is devoted to wisdom. Wisdom books account for about 15% of our Bible. Think about them like letters written by parents to their children, and to generations they’ll never get to meet; of everything they most want their children to remember. Wisdom is calling out in the streets, they write, but it’s hard to hear over the noise of everything going on in the world. There’s so much being said—it’s hard to know what’s good and nourishing.
I started out in this series making a contrast, drawing a line between wisdom and what we’ve replaced it with in our time: immediacy and information. The world is happy to tell you everything popular and trending and therefore, from the world’s perspective, important and true. But in all the noise forming us, shaping and misshaping us spiritually, do we know what’s wise? Can we step out of our own perspectives, for just a moment, and notice the way we see the world? Can we be honest, that not all progress has been toward a good end?
We’ve talked about those things which are meant to be at the core of our lives; things like love, wisdom, family, compassion, and the Spirit of God. They are necessary things, to keep in your heart, meaning at the deepest part of your thoughts and desires. Your heart is like a well or a spring. If you lose it, or if you allow the enemy to poison it, you run dry.
We have to make a choice each day, between wisdom and foolishness, death and life. Sin and folly consume you without ever being satisfied, but death doesn’t always look like some monster with a gaping mouth trying to swallow you whole. Sometimes death seduces you. Sometimes it looks fun and exciting. And usually evil is proud of itself. But wisdom causes a person to thrive.
Today, after so much time spent looking at the value of wisdom in our lives, this section of the book is going to begin teaching wisdom. These are the actual proverbs of Solomon, and you’ll notice a few things. One, you’ll notice, each verse is going to stand on its own. It’s tempting to go through and try to make sense of why this verse is next to that, and to try to see some kind of thread through it all—let me save you some time. There is no thread, except the thread of really good advice.
The text is going to change the way I’m preaching, too. Normally I try to spend the whole sermon talking about one main point from the passage, but in these passages, there isn’t one main point, there are several. So I’m going to hit on several topics which run as themes, or currents through the text.
It’s a beautiful passage, let’s read it. [Proverbs 10]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.
These chapters are a collection of sayings. Words to live by. Think about this for a minute—what were the repeated phrases in your home growing up, and what were they meant to teach you? My mom is actually here with us today, so in her honor I’ll give you a few I was raised on, but she could probably give you many more. I remember hearing a lot, “Be grateful for your food; so many people don’t have enough.” And, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And, “Treat others how you would want to be treated.”
Hearing these things over and over again, that kind of repetition, that kind of ritual shapes you spiritually and forms you spiritually over time. So let me ask you, what words do you live by, what actions do you repeat, what patterns shape your interactions, and are they wise? Because over and over again, Proverbs has taught us that while wisdom is calling in the streets, so is folly, foolishness, which is just death and sin by another name. While righteousness is a familiar path, so are the roads leading to death.
The first theme I want to point out in what we read this morning is this: wisdom hears and accepts correction and instruction. Wisdom hears and accepts correction and instruction. I’m looking at vs. 8,9,14,17 and others. This is going to be a continued theme. Wisdom, righteousness hears and accepts correction and instruction, but foolishness, wickedness approves of itself and only seeks to hear what it already believes.
V.8 says “the wise of heart will receive commandments.” V.17, “whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects correction leads others astray.” Wisdom, at any age, at any level of study and intelligence, hears and accepts correction and instruction.
Before I was pastoring here I was a discipleship pastor for a number of years. I would take a group of people, usually just about three or four, and we would begin meeting together regularly just to pray together and study the word of God, confess sin to each other and seek forgiveness. And these are the people who would lead small groups and disciple other people in the church.
Doing that kind of work, I learned very quickly. The people who grow spiritually by leaps and bounds are not those who are the smartest, or the most spiritual, or who have been in church the longest, or who know the Bible the best. In intentional discipleship, the people who grow the most spiritually are the people who accept correction and instruction. As a discipleship pastor, if given the choice between a seminarian who is top of his class and thinks he has little left to learn, between him and a totally new believer who knows nothing and is eager to learn the things of God, I would choose the new believer without hesitation every time.
Of course, if you’re a good pastor you don’t choose the people you disciple. You disciple the people God brings you in whatever way you can. But let me ask you, do you accept correction? Do you accept instruction? Are there people in your life whom you consider to be your teachers? Do you have people in your life you consider to be wiser than yourself, and do you ask for their advice and instruction?
Leroy is one of mine. He was a black pastor in Selma, Alabama for about thirty years, through the seventies and nineties, and then worked for the denomination, as I do, for another couple of decades. I call him one of my notebook people, because whenever we talk I bring a notebook to write down everything God teaches me through him and his experience and perspective and wisdom. He has worked great change in his time in his community and denomination, but all without using shame or violence. He speaks truth in love and trusts God to work in that.
And I’m not telling you that to say I’m doing everything right, I’m telling you that because that relationship has been a wellspring in my life, and I need Leroy and others like him. And you need people like him. You need people in your life who can correct you because they don’t share your perspective and opinion and culture. You need people whom you consider to be wiser than yourself, and you need actively to seek their advice, because most wise people will not speak unless they are asked to speak.
Two stories of how I’ve seen this play out, practically—just to get real with you this morning. One man, I’ll call him James, was a part of a small church plant here in town, and he was in my small group, I was a high school teacher at the time. He was a deeply spiritual person and always attuned to the leading of God, and he used his gifts for the good of the church—gifts of healing, gifts of prophecy, incredible gifts. One day he called a meeting with the pastors of the church, and he told them he no longer accepted their authority as pastors or their instruction, because they didn’t share his spiritual gifts. So how could they possibly have anything to teach him? He felt he was more in tune with the leading of the Spirit than they were, and this is where I learned an important lesson as a young pastor you’ve probably heard me repeat before: there are more spirits in the world than the Holy Spirit.
As soon as he began rejecting instruction and correction, I saw Satan devour him, and the spiritual leading to which he was so attuned was the very weapon the enemy used against him, because he isolated himself. If ever anyone tried to correct him, he would tell them that the Spirit had told him otherwise, and who are you to speak against God? And if you think what I’m doing is unwise, then you’re faithless. And in that way, he became a church of one, and began walking down a very dark path. At this point in my ministry, I’ve met many people on that same road. It ends in death, friends; it goes down to Sheol.
Wisdom hears and accepts correction and instruction. Fools trust in their own discernment. The wicked are righteous in their own eyes. Fools follow their own ways. People will tell you, God and I are good, we have our own deal worked out. They’ll tell you, well that’s your opinion. What makes you an authority? They’ll go on TikTok and find a hundred people who agree with them, so why should they listen to you? Meanwhile, wisdom hears and accepts correction and instruction.
I said I was going to tell you two stories. A second man, I’ll call John. He had moved here to attend seminary, knew the Bible well already, was friends with someone I’d been discipling who told John it had been beneficial and he was growing spiritually. John shows up at church, first time I’ve ever met him and says, “Well if you’re the discipleship minister, I want to be a disciple.” And I told him what I tell everyone, which is that being my disciple would be useless, but together we can become disciples of Christ, and he said. “Great, we’ll call that lesson one.”
He texts me and his friend that week and asks us what day and time would work to get started, and week after week he got us all together to pray and read the Bible and confess sins, seek forgiveness. I still mark that time as one of the healthiest and most abundant in my spiritual life. Wisdom hears and accepts correction and instruction.
So what is the pattern in your life? Do you accept correction? Do you ask for advice? What action do you repeat, what words? Do you thank people for disagreeing with you or do you try to intimidate them? Shout them down? Put them on blast? Who are the people you trust, who are wiser than you are, and do you ask them for input?
The second theme is this: your righteousness, your wisdom, is not for you alone. Your righteousness, your wisdom is not for you alone. Any wisdom or righteousness given by God to you is a gift you are meant to use to help the people around you. Over and over again in this chapter, wisdom and righteousness are shown to be for the whole community. V.15, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city,” meaning you aren’t truly wealthy until your whole community is thriving. It wasn’t given to you to hoard while the rest go without.
The same thing goes for wisdom and righteousness. Y’all, there isn’t an us and a them; we are all a part of humanity. “No man is an island,” Donne writes, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved with mankind.” We can’t be wise and righteous without sharing our wisdom and righteousness with the people around us who are mired in foolishness. You can’t be wise by yourself; your wisdom and righteousness are your strong city.
Let me give an example. We work a lot here at our church with addiction, and I’ve seen a lot of people come through addiction. Some of them turn around and despise everyone who is still addicted, tell them they aren’t strong enough, and if you would just be like me. Others, when they meet people still mired in addiction, their heart breaks for them, and they give them whatever advice, whatever hope they can in hopes that the addicted person might be free and alive again.
And I’ve seen others come out of sins of legalism or racism, some turning and despising all those who are still mired and sin and others seeking tenderly, lovingly to help free people from those sins which, when full-grown, lead to death.
The apostle Peter quotes Proverbs 10 in his first letter, chapter four, he writes, “as each of you has received a gift from God, use it to serve one another.” Serve, meaning—not lording it over the people around you, but sharing your wisdom and righteousness for the thriving of the people around you. Your wisdom, your righteousness, it’s not meant for you alone. Your righteousness is worthless, and your faith is dead, if you do not use it to serve the people in your community. Your wisdom, your righteousness, it’s not just for you.
V.12 is the verse Peter quotes, “Love covers all offenses,” which Peter calls one of the most important truths in life; he writes, “Above all else, keep loving one another earnestly,” why? “Because love covers a multitude of sins.” The gifts God gives are meant to be shared, they are meant to be used to serve one another.
So what defines your relationships with the people around you, and what would I hear in your conversations? Love covering offense? Serving the people around you as each has received a gift? Or do you use your righteousness like a weapon to shame and make other people feel small? Does love cover your offense, or when people offend you do you allow division—division, which is itself sin? For those of you who have wisdom, are you discipling, are you teaching? Did you think those things were given to you so you could win arguments or be the one in the Bible study with the right answers? For those of you who have been given righteousness, do you use it to look down on those without it, or are you using it to uplift your community so people might see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven?
I’ll point out one more theme, and then I’m out of time. Thirdly: in wisdom, righteous desires will never go unfulfilled. In wisdom, righteous desires will never go unfulfilled. This point is probably clearest in vs.2-3; he writes, “Treasures gained by wickedness don’t profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.” What’s he saying? How could a treasure not profit, and in a Bible chronicling many famines, how can he possibly say that righteous people don’t go hungry?
I teased our Wednesday night small group this week by saying that I was going to teach this morning that nothing good can ever happen to an evil person. What I mean is that treasures gained by wickedness don’t profit.
Let’s start with what he’s not saying. Solomon is not saying that if you’ve experienced hunger or sickness you’re foolish or faithless. I know there are a lot of people who teach that kind of thing. That if you have enough faith, if you only believe, then you’ll receive abundant blessing from God in the form of money, cars, health. That kind of, I’ll call it prosperity gospel, it’s all over the TV down here, and if you call in and give to their ministry, they tell you you’ll be blessed and highly favored. That’s a false teaching. It’s a lie. God never promised us wealth or ease or a good life if we follow him in wisdom. In fact, something of the opposite. He tells us trials and persecutions will come.
And you aren’t more blessed because you’re from the suburbs. And you’re not less blessed if you’re poor. We need to hear wisdom on this. What Solomon means by saying the treasures gained by wickedness don’t profit is that even the good fortune of wicked, foolish people goes bad. But for wise, righteous people, even hard times and trials are cause for celebration. As the apostle James writes, “consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of various kinds.”
There is a sixth-century Christian brother named Boetheus who wrote a book from prison called The Consolation of Philosophy. He had been an advisor to the king, a respected thinker and writer, but the king turned against him and imprisoned him. And from his prison cell, just like the apostle Paul, he praises God for all of the trials he was going through. He also praises God for all of his fortune in his life before, both.
Boetheus points out that the greatest treasures in life aren’t treasures to the foolish. Give a foolish man a loving wife, and what does he do with her? Give him wealth and power, and what happens? The greatest treasures don’t profit them.
Wisdom, when it receives good gifts from God—things like wealth, health, favor, success—wisdom praises God for the goodness of his gifts and is satisfied. And when wisdom’s blessing is a curse, and life is a trial, and everything goes wrong—wisdom praises God for his sufficiency and is satisfied. To quote Paul, again, “I’ve learned to be content in every circumstance…To live is Christ, to die is gain.” The wise person learns to be content in every circumstance. In wealth, in poverty, in health, in sickness. “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
But when foolishness receives good gifts from God—things like wealth, health, favor, and success—foolishness is ungrateful, never satisfied, and bends every plan and device on getting more. When foolishness faces want and trial, he curses God and despises him, looks to himself to get him through.
Do you really not know how a treasure can be of no profit? Haven’t you seen people in this world with everything the world has to offer as miserable as if they were a wretch with nothing? Wives they step out on, children they don’t play with, wisdom they scoff at? Even good things are not good to a foolish person. What can you give him that he won’t misuse? With the wealth of the nations, he will hoard it and love money, and die alone. With health, he will only use it to seek unjust gain. With success, he will only use it to oppress his neighbors. Every good thing turns to evil in his hands.
Do you see what he means? So the wise man is never dissatisfied, never lacks for anything, while the wicked man is never satisfied, always hungry, always devouring. To the wise man, even small things like a sunrise are like grand riches, and to the wicked man the greatest treasures are worthless, wasted on him, only leave him wanting more.
Righteous desires never go unfulfilled, because God is our portion and we are never without him. Wickedness, foolishness, devours every good gift and only ever wants more.
And you, what do you value? What have you been given and what is it worth to you? What becomes of the gifts God gives you in your hands? What do you do with what you’ve been given, and are you satisfied? What do you consider as blessing, God and his presence or money, talent, and status?
Wisdom is calling in the streets, even these crowded streets in New Orleans. Can you hear her? Will you listen? Or will you stifle the stirring of the Holy Spirit in your chest and go home unchanged? Listen—what is wisdom saying this morning to you?
My prayer for you today, my prayer and invitation, is to seek wisdom. Wisdom which hears and accepts correction, which always satisfies, and which never leaves you alone, but enmeshes you in a community you’re able to serve as you’ve received a gift. Wisdom, which is not only of great worth but shows you the value and weight of everything and everyone around you. Wisdom which trains our steps to follow our Lord in every way he leads.