The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 29, 2019
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Most of us here today would undoubtedly agree that education is extremely important. That is why we do everything we can to make sure that our children and our grandchildren receive the best education possible. At the same time, most of us here today would undoubtedly agree that education has changed dramatically over the course of time. My Grandpa was born on a farm near North Branch, Minnesota, in 1902. He graduated from the local country school— and that was it. Grandpa continued to work on the farm for a while, but eventually he moved to the “big city,” St. Paul, and got a job in the largest department store in the state. He worked there in the warehouse until the day he retired. That doesn’t happen very often anymore. When I was in high school it was generally anticipated that once you graduated you would do one of three things: you would go out and get a job, you would go on to a Vo-Tec school and learn a trade or you would go on to college. Not many of my classmates went on to college. And today? Gone are the days when you could graduate from college and anticipate that you were finally done with school! Graduate studies and continuing education are now the norm for everyone from plumbers to pastors.
To see how important a good education is all one has to do is scan the “Help Wanted” sites such as Indeed.com, check out the enrollment at colleges and universities all across the country, or simply talk to someone who is desperately trying to find a job with better pay and better benefits, but they don’t have the necessary educational background to get hired.
Our sermon text for today focuses our attention on the topic of education. The type of education which is being emphasized here, however, is not in any way secular in nature. This education that is being emphasized here is the education that prepares us for eternity! With that in mind let’s study this text under the theme: Wisdom 101! There are two things we want to look at today. First, let’s look at the definition of true wisdom. Then look at both the positive and negative results of either possessing or not possessing true wisdom.
Our text for today begins in a very straightforward way by placing before us two parallel truths. King Solomon— a man who knew a little bit about wisdom— says to us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” There are a number of key words in this verse that we need to understand correctly. The first key word is the word translated as “fear.” Our first reaction might be to understand this word in the sense of dread or terror or fright. For example, I can honestly say that I “fear” spiders. The bigger they are the more I “fear” them! That is not how the word “fear” is used here in our text.
The Hebrew word that is translated here in our text as “fear” very literally means: “fear, reverence, honor, awe.” We are to “fear” God in the sense that we are to render unto Him the utmost reverence, humbly give Him the highest honor there is and hold Him in awe like no one else. This understanding of the word “fear” is then supported by the parallel term used in this verse— the term “knowledge.” This Hebrew word can also be translated as “insight.”
When our heart is filled with reverence and honor and awe for God, when our heart has been illuminated with true insight into the one true God then King Solomon says we will possess both “the beginning of wisdom” and true “understanding.” Note very carefully, my friends, how King Solomon says that “reverence” or “fear” of God is the “beginning of wisdom.” Having true honor and respect for God doesn’t encompass everything there is when it comes to “wisdom.” It is only the starting point! Standing in “awe” of the Lord God of heaven and earth is the foundation upon which true wisdom is built. Standing in “awe” of God will lead us to want to learn even more about Him through regular study of His holy Word. The more we know about God, the more insight we have concerning who He is and what He has done for us (pointing to the cross) the more “wisdom” and the more “knowledge” we will possess.
At the same time, however, do not allow anyone to deceive you, my friends. Solomon very clearly emphasizes here in our text that there is no such entity as a “generic god.” Scripture does not allow anyone to define God according to their own pre-conceived ideas. Scripture does not allow anyone to shape God or to mold God so that He fits into their own personal little comfort zone. There is only one true God. Solomon proclaims who the true God is by using the parallel terms “the LORD” and the “the Holy One.” The only true God is the “LORD,” the great “I AM,” the God of absolute justice, absolute grace and absolute independence. The only true God is the “Holy One,” the God whose perfection and holiness and righteousness soars far far beyond our human comprehension. True wisdom and true knowledge, true insight and true understanding recognizes and acknowledges and confesses this one true God.
Why is it important to recognize this? Why is it critically important to believe that the only true God is the “LORD,” the “Holy One”? Why can’t we allow even the possibility of a “generic one-size-fits-all kind of god” There are three reasons, my friends. One reason is positive. One reason is negative. And one reason connects this Old Testament text with the New Testament Scriptures.
First, let’s see how this Old Testament text dovetails perfectly with the New Testament Scriptures. To do this all we need to do is look at two very familiar New Testament passages. Here in Proverbs 9 King Solomon proclaims that the one true God is— the “Holy One.” In Luke 1:35 the angel Gabriel explains to the virgin Mary both how she will conceive her Child and Who her Child will be. Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (See also Mark 1:24; John 6:69) Here in Proverbs 9 King Solomon also proclaims that the one true God is— the “LORD.” In Luke 2:11 the angel of the LORD appeared to the shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks at night and proclaimed to them the glorious message of Christmas, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the LORD.”
True wisdom recognizes the fact that the one true God is the God who willingly came into this world as our true Brother to save us from our sins by living a perfect life in our place, by suffering and dying on the cross as our Substitute and by keeping His promise to physically rise from the dead on Easter Sunday. True wisdom recognizes the fact that apart from the “LORD,” apart from the “Holy One,” there is no salvation. That truth then ties in with both the positive and the negative reason as to why Scripture does not allow even the possibility of a “generic one-size-fits-all god.”
The positive reason is found in verse 11 and the first part of verse 12 of our text. Through King Solomon the “LORD,” the “Holy One” says to us, “For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you.” When we have been given the gift of true wisdom— the wisdom that enables us to know the one true God— then we will be “rewarded” with a long and a happy life! But wait a minute. If true wisdom rewards us with a long and a happy life then why is it that some Christians die in the “prime” of their life? If true wisdom rewards us with a long and a happy life then why is it that sometimes Christians experience more pain and more sorrow, more hardships and more heartaches than many unbelievers? If we were to look at only at our life here in this world then this portion of our text would be very difficult to understand, my friends. True wisdom, however, true knowledge and true insight leads us to look beyond this world to— eternity!
Once again we turn to the New Testament Scriptures to help us understand this portion of our text. In Romans 8:18 the apostle Paul reminds us, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The true wisdom that enables to know that the “LORD” is our Savior God also enables us to look beyond all the difficulties we encounter in this world and rejoice in the glory and the perfection that the “Holy One” has waiting for us in heaven. Likewise the Lord Jesus Himself gives us this glorious promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). True wisdom enables us to believe that we have an immortal soul. We will live on into eternity. True wisdom enables us to understand this portion of our text from God’s perspective, from the perspective of what is waiting for us in the life to come.
That brings us to the last verse of our text for today as well as the last point we want to emphasize. There are disastrous results when someone rejects the truth proclaimed in the opening verse of our text. Through King Solomon the “LORD,” the “Holy One” says in the closing words of our text, “If you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.” Some day every human being will be required to stand before the judgment throne of the Holy One and give an account of their life here on this earth. (See Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12) If their heart does not possess the wisdom which enables them to “fear the LORD” as in reverence, respect and honor then because of their own sin they will most certainly “fear the LORD” as in dread and terror and fright. Scripture clearly proclaims “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7) and, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). This is why we want to make sure that we share with as many people as we can the wisdom that enables them to know who the true God and what He has done for them. (Pointing to the cross)
We do indeed understand that education is extremely important. That is why we do everything we can to make sure that our children and our grandchildren receive the best education possible. At the same time, let’s not forget that there is a wisdom that far surpasses all the wisdom and education and intelligence of this world. It is the wisdom that comes to us from God through His holy Word and Sacraments. It is the wisdom that enables to know that there is only one true God— the “Lord” who suffered and died and rose for our salvation, the “Holy One” who invites us to His Supper where He personally assures us that our sins are forgiven, the God who guarantees to us a glorious eternal life in His heavenly Home. Thank God, my friends, that purely by His power and purely by His grace He has granted to you the gift of true wisdom.
To God be the glory!