Your browser does not support JavaScript. Please enable JavaScipt to view our website.

How to: live

Proverbs 1:1-7

     It’s intergenerational weekend here at LAC.  All ages are in our worship service. And now we come to the sermon.  I wonder what you’re thinking about that right now.  Are you thinking, “How long is this going to be?”  Or maybe, “I hope Pastor Greg tells us some good jokes or stories to keep my kids listening!”  Or more likely, “I’d sure like to be doing something else right now instead of listening to a sermon!”

     So let me tell you something:  I’m going to be taking us to God’s Word right now – yes, God’s Word.  Specifically, I’ll be talking to you about the Book of Proverbs, the book in the Bible that says it’s all about teaching you how to make “right, just and fair decisions (1:3b).  So, is there anything in your life that you’re confused about?  Do you wonder whether God might be able to help you understand better what’s happening?  Do you feel right now that you need to hear a Word from God? 

     Or, maybe you are a genuine Christian, a person deeply wanting to know God and live for God.  Maybe, when I open the Bible, you think, “God, I long to hear what you have to say to me. I will listen carefully and seek to learn how you would have me live my life today.”

     For all of us here who know we need to hear from God today, let’s listen as our reader comes so that we might hear together God’s Word from Proverbs 1:1-7:

Question 1: Why should you take notice of the Book of Proverbs?

     I hope you see that the Book of Proverbs begins much like the way I’ve started this sermon.  King Solomon and those who collected these proverbs started this way.  They ask:  Did you come today:

  • Wondering what to do in a situation in your life (v.2a – “gaining wisdom”)) – or, at least what is the right “next step” that God would have you take,
  • Needing understanding for something happening that is confusing you (v.2b),
  • Hoping to gain some instruction from God about doing what is right and just and fair in a decision you have to make… (v.3) --

     Then, the book of Proverbs is for you.  That’s why this book is in the Bible.  And notice in vv. 4-5, that Proverbs is an intergenerational book.  It’s for the “simple” (v.4a), that’s the person who is new to faith and hasn’t read the Bible very much.  It’s for the “young” (v.4b), for children and students who haven’t lived so long yet and still have countless things to experience.  And it’s also for the “wise” (v.5a), i.e., the older person who has walked with the Lord and knows the Bible well.  We never stop needing to hear from God about how to live.

     So clearly, God intends us all of us to benefit from Proverbs.  But, God’s stated task of teaching all of us how to live seems like a big one, doesn’t it?  How can one book teach both the young and the old, the 1st grader and the Cal Tech professor, the new believer and the one who has been a Christian for 60 years?

     God has chosen to speak to us all about his wisdom through Proverbs.

Question 2: What do you have to do to become wise through God’s Proverbs?

     First, I want you to see that these truly are “Proverbs” – not rules.  The problem I have with my own series title is that “How to Live” might make you think that God is going to give you precise step-by-step instructions for every decision you have to make every day of your life.  Can you imagine that?  If God did that, then Proverbs might look like this:

Technical Map

     That’s not what God does.  I’ve found that many Christians seem to want that kind of rulebook.  But, if God just gave us rules to follow, we wouldn’t have to think very much – or seek God very much in prayer either.  Of course, there are rules in the Bible, like those in the 10 Commandments – like no lying, no stealing, no murder, no adultery…  These are good moral rules.  But, most of the decisions we make day by day are more complex and force us to think, as v.3 says, about what is right and good and fair.  To be wise, we have to be able to ask questions like, “I feel like I’m wasting my life playing games or going online all the time.  Does God have any wisdom for me about that?”  God says, “In my Proverbs, I won’t give you rules – but I will give you guidance for wise living about matters like how you use your time.”

     So, one thing God has chosen to give us to guide our lives is what he calls proverbs.  And, he tells us in v. 5 what we must do to gain wisdom from them: God says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”  Do you see the two related things we must do to be wise?  When you read Proverbs, you must:

  1. Listen Carefully

     V.5a – “Let the wise listen…” I don’t think listening is easy – and I don’t think many of us do it well.  When I was  Middle School pastor, I remember many of the students saying to me, “Pastor Greg, I have so many problems with my parents.  But, the biggest thing is that they just won’t listen.  They don’t understand my friends or me.  They don’t understand what’s going on in the world as it is today.  They’re stubborn and they won’t listen!”  So I would visit the parents and they would say, “The real problem in our home is that my child won’t listen…”  I wept and laughed at the same time when I hear that.

     God declares to us that if we will learn to live well, we must learn to listen carefully to him and his Word.  It takes humility to listen.  Are you listening now?  When you listen to someone carefully, you are really saying, “What you are saying is important to me.  I have something to gain from you.”  God says in v.5 that the one who will benefit from the Proverbs listens carefully to each word with this kind of prayer, “Speak Lord, for I am listening, longing to learn from You, and ready to obey.”

     For you to gain anything from God’s Word, you must listen carefully to what he says.

  1. Think clearly --

     When God says in v.5b, “Let the discerning get guidance,” what he’s saying is, “Focus on what I say.  Come to my Word longing to hear whatever I say so that you might gain guidance for what is happening in your life.  Don’t let anything distract you.”  The Bible is declaring here in v.5b that, if you will gain from the Proverbs, you will have to stop for a while and reflect on what God has said in each one.  You’ll have to take time, be silent, and ask God to show you how this proverb applies to what is going on in your life.

     Different from some of the books in the Bible, the book of Proverbs was not written for us to read all the way through at one sitting.  What you have to do is read just a verse or a few verses and then stop.  You will often find something that seems funny, or unusual  or – often – in story form.  You will need to ask, “Lord, what does this mean?”  And then you will have to move to the question, “God, are you saying anything to me in these verses about how you want me to live in this world?”

     Let me give you an example.  I think children here in the service might like this one.  Proverbs 26:11: As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.  When I read a verse like that in church, I know there are probably many reactions: 

  1. “Is that really in the Bible?” (The answer is yes.) 
  2. “It’s cool to hear the word ‘vomit’ in church!”  (I’m guessing some are thinking that.)
  3. “I know that’s in the Bible, Pastor, but with all the Proverbs available, why did you have to pick out one so disgusting?” (I suppose I would say that it’s for the same reason as the Bible puts it there, i.e., to wake you up so that you will listen.)

     Whatever your reaction is to the proverb, what I want you to do is stop and listen carefully to the words.  It’s God’s Word meant to help you be wise.  As I think about it, I realize that the dog probably vomited because the food that upset the dog’s stomach was not good for it in the first place.  It made the dog sick.  But in spite of that, the dog goes back to it again.  God says, that’s what you and I are like when we do things that we know harm us or those around us – and still go back to the same thing.  The “fool” is the one who does not listen to God’s wisdom.  Of course, everyone listens to someone – either our own cravings or the world’s advice.  But, when we do things that lead to guilt and shame, we feel bad for a while and then – all-too-often, go back and do the same things again.  Does that ring true to you?  I think this cartoon captures it well:

i promise

     The one who will be wise will learn from this and will begin to find ways to break from destructive patterns and find freedom to live well.

     That’s how I want you to approach the Proverbs.  Read slowly.  Get away from the distractions of your cell phone or your computer or your television.  Read – listen – think and pray.  Each week I will give you a daily reading of Proverbs that will prepare you for what will happen next week.  (In our next services, we’ll talk about God’s wisdom for the use of our money.)  If you would like to purchase a commentary to guide you, I recommend Ray Ortlund’s Proverbs -- Wisdom that Works

Question 3: What Is the First and Most Important Thing If You Will be Wise?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7; 9:10).

     Solomon declares that if you will know how to live well, you cannot even begin until you fear the Lord.  The one thing that must speak into every decision you make in your life is that you fear the Lord.  The call to “fear the Lord’ occurs 18 times in the Book of Proverbs!  You will be a “fool” who walks away from God if you do not fear the Lord.  That’s what this “key verse” in the Proverbs is proclaiming to you.  If you fear the Lord, then you will learn to be wise – and you will have nothing else to fear.

     But what do you think when I read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”?  Doesn’t it hit you wrong?  Don’t you think, “Fear in our world is never a good thing.  It’s off-putting to speak about fearing the Lord.  Let’s re-translate it to: ‘The respect for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’”

     But let me tell you that the people in the Bible days would have said something very much like that.  But, God’s Word consciously and intentionally uses the word “fear.”  What’s happening is that the Book of Proverbs is doing in 1:7 what you will find happening over and over as you read Proverbs.  It’s forcing you to stop and to ask, “What is God saying here?”  Then you remember things like this:  That the God who is calling you to fear him is the same one who, in 1:2-6, is wanting you to be wise, and to gain knowledge and to do what is right, just and fair.  Of course, you who have met God through Jesus know that he is the God who loves you so much that he sent his Son to save you.  So, when he says, “Fear me” – God does not want to ruin your life or rob you of joy.  He wants you to live well.

     Are you listening to God’s Word carefully right now?  Are you thinking clearly?  Can you think of anything that is good for you that might also be feared?  I can.  I remember my Mom – who loved me dearly but also was to be feared if I did sinful things.  I think of the best teachers I ever had who loved me so much that they wouldn’t let me get by with sloppy work.  I think of fire that has warmed me on a freezing Chicago winter night, and enabled me to grill some of the greatest tasting burgers imaginable – but, at the same time, could burn me if I am careless and take it for granted.

     I hear God saying to you today, “I love you with an everlasting love.  I will send my Son to save you – but, beware, you must surrender your life to him in faith or you have no hope.  I will give you Proverbs to teach you how to live well – but if you despise my teaching, you will head toward destruction.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

     I’ll stop there and return next week.  And, with that verse from God in our ears, before our eyes, and in our hearts, we go together here at LAC into a summer of learning how to live well – according to God.

To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

Sermons Archive

Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church