Sunday, June 21, 2020

Correction, Instruction, and Understanding

Proverbs 9:1-10
Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars; She has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine; She has also set her table; She has sent out her maidens, she calls From the tops of the heights of the city: "Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!"  To him who lacks understanding she says, "Come, eat of my food, And drink of the wine I have mixed.  Forsake your folly and live, And proceed in the way of understanding."

He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.  Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man, and he will increase his learning.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity                             6/21/20
Correction, Instruction, and Understanding

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Some texts are easier to preach than others, just as some sermons are easier to hear than others.  The lesson from Proverbs this morning would be great for a theological lecture.  It has so many interesting facets.  As a sermon text, however, it covers too much ground.  It would be easy to get off the track and turn it into a moral lecture.  It also would be just as easy to ignore the words and preach a nice, happy little sermon.  The challenge of the text for me is to avoid either extreme and preach the Word of God before us as a pastor.  The challenge before you is to listen and to hear what it has to say.  Our theme, this morning, is Correction, Instruction, and Understanding.

At first glance, it looks like some sort of anthropomorphizing analogy about Wisdom, followed by a warning about the dangers inherent in teaching mockers.  I am tempted to ignore the first half of the text.  That is where the lecture material comes in.  If you read this chapter of Proverbs, however, you will find that at this end Wisdom is inviting the naive, and at the other end of the chapter, Folly makes her invitation.  One way is the way of life, the other way is the way of death.

And where do we find ourselves?  Reality offers us two "invitations".  We always confront the choices of right or wrong, of wisdom or foolishness, of faith or doubt, of faithfulness or rebellion.  This is, in a sense, where we live.  The invitation is extended to the "naive".  The Hebrew word there means "simple".  The invitation is to the young and simple, to the inexperienced and what Rush Limbaugh calls "young skulls full of mush."  Most of us are no longer inexperienced and naive.  We still hear the siren call of Folly, however, always inviting us to sin, always asking us to act as though we have no compass and no understanding.

That would be out of character, though.  That is one of the realities that grown-up Christians need to learn to face.  Sin and "folly" are out of character for the child of God.  They are unnatural, since we have been redeemed and set free from sin into the freedom of the children of God.  We who might consider ourselves mature Christians are those who have eaten at the table of Wisdom.  The new Christians and the young people among us are the ones to whom the invitation is spoken.

Wisdom has built her house.  It would be tempting to say that you are sitting in it, but that is not precisely true.  We, who are Christians, are the house.  1 Peter 2:4-5: "And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  We are the house of God, the house that Wisdom built.  The seven pillars are the Seven-fold Spirit, the one called the "Septiform Spirit", "the Spirit of the LORD, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD," named in Isaiah 11:2.  These pillars have been "hewn out" by being poured out on Jesus, the author of our faith, and the cornerstone of the Church.

Remember, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  That "fear of the Lord" means "Faith".  True Wisdom is built on knowing God, and trusting Him, and seeing the world through the knowledge of God.  This is not a natural perspective.  It is not even automatic for mature Christians.  It is a perspective that we learn, and one which we must daily set before ourselves.  It means to be deliberately a Christian, to choose to walk in the light of forgiveness, and the consciousness of our own weakness and susceptibility to sin.  "Proceed in the way of understanding," the text says.

The way of understanding is the way of the Gospel, through the passageways of the Law.  That is why the invitation is directed to the naive.  Generally, by the time you have gotten to your forties or fifties, or beyond, you have heard the invitations of both Wisdom and Folly, and you have accepted one or the other.  That is why the text speaks about the dangers of teaching the "scoffer" and the "wicked man".

Correction is one of the things that God's Wisdom does.  We are sinful men and women, and so we are always wrong, by nature.  And correction is never fun.  Being told that you are sinful, that perfectly natural passions and reactions to things are sin and death is both frightening and irritating.  The child of God takes the correction to heart, repents, and seeks forgiveness.  The scoffer and the wicked man just take offense and try to make it stop by creating as much havoc and pain in the lives of those they see as responsible for their correction as they can. 

The scoffer attacks what he sees as restrictions on his or her freedom.  The wicked man (or woman) simply attacks anything holy because having holiness nearby makes the wicked conscious of the evil nature of their wickedness.  They don't want to be seen as wicked or treated as the wicked people that they are – so they strike, they attack, they seek to humiliate, enrage and destroy – to turn away anyone they see as correcting them or reproving them, or to bring them down to their own level.

Scoffers are those who know better.  They are the free-thinkers.  They can see that old-fashioned religion and doctrines of the past are out of date, too conservative, and no longer relevant.  They scoff at God.  They scoff at faith, They scoff at truth.  They know a better, brighter, more modern and more acceptable way.  The wicked are those who do not believe, and do not care to be guided by truth.  They want to do what they want to do, and no one had better get in their way.  If you correct or reprove either of these you will find insults, scorn, derision, and hatred.

The wise man is the righteous man who takes correction to heart, who is instructed by the discipline of God, and who delights in learning because what he is learning is truth, and how to see himself and all of life through the perspective of the truth.  The wise man is the righteous man because, in this passage, wisdom is faith - "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom".  And faith is the means appointed by God to receive forgiveness, and the righteousness of Christ.

The "wise man" of our text is the Christian, whose hope is in the Lord, and whose greatest treasure is forgiveness, life and salvation.  Each of us would like to claim our place among those "wise" men, and yet I would guess that none of us feel that our forgiveness or salvation is always our greatest treasure.  We probably feel that way some of the time, and we know that it is true, but we don't feel it all of the time.

That is where reproof and correction come in.  That is why the text says Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man, and he will increase his learning.  The Christian knows that he is not complete yet.  The more we know about God, the more we can believe.  And correction straightens us out and helps us stand firm and faithful, so we receive it gladly – even when it is painful and irritating.  The wise know that the problem is sin, not the correction, and not the one who is reproving us.

Having the beginning of wisdom, we press on to know the Lord, as the prophet Hosea encourages us in Hosea 6:3.  We seek to grow in wisdom and maturity, as Hebrews 6:1 instructs us.  We seek to grow not just because we want to get to heaven, but because, as our text says, the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

What that means is that the better we know God, and understand His will and His ways, the more sense we can make of life.  Life isn't as terrifying, and it isn't as frustrating when we trust God. We know that God is providing for us and protecting us because of His great love for us – so we can be confident in every situation when we walk by faith.

We have, through our faith, sin and death stripped of their powers.  Christ has died our death, and we shall live His life.  That is "Wisdom".  That is what the proverb speaks about.  Wisdom answers the questions with Christ.  The uncertainties of this life are settled in knowing the will of God and trusting His promises and His care and keeping.  And what is the will of God? [Our Salvation.]

See how wise you are?  And doesn't it make life better, and make you happy to know that God's will is focused on your salvation?  The more you know about God and how He works among us and in us and through us, the deeper your faith – the more powerful it is in comforting you, in guiding you, in helping you live daily as the child of God in this dark and sinful world.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and so, if we understand that faith is what the Proverbs refer to as wisdom,  Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser.  And, if you Teach a righteous man (a Christian, man or woman, made righteous by the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus), he will increase his learning.
The alternatives are Wisdom and Folly.  Since Wisdom is faith, Folly is unbelief.  Folly is sin.  Folly is the temptation to do what feels good, and reach for all the gusto you can get.  Folly says that it is my life and my body and I can do what I darn well please.  Folly is all those things we hear people say to look good or sound good, to justify themselves rather than confess and repent of their sins and be truly cleansed.  It is the natural way of life to men and women who are by nature sinful.  The proverb says, There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.  Actually two proverbs say it, in the same words - Proverbs 14:12 and Proverbs 16:25.  The way of death is easy and natural.  The way of wisdom is difficult and sometimes painful, and sometimes embarrassing, and sometimes humiliating because it involves correction - and repentance - and humility.  Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it.  For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."  The narrow gate is the gate of Wisdom, the gate where we find Correction, Instruction and Understanding.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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