Pastor Sherry’s message for September 19, 2021
Scriptures: Psalms 1; Proverbs 31:10-31; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Last week, we looked at the choice between wisdom or foolishness, and the cost of living foolishly. Our lessons this week, once again, center on wisdom. In his book, Knowing God, Rev. Dr. J. I. Packer—a brilliant theologian and a dedicated Bible scholar—defines wisdom as, “…the power to see and the inclination to choose the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” Someone once said (perhaps Yogi Berra), “You don’t have to be listed in Who’s Who to know what’s what.” Someone else has declared, “A wise man [or woman] learns by the experience of others. An ordinary man [or woman] learns by his own experience. A fool learns by nobody’s experience.” Isn’t that the truth!
As often as the topic is addressed in Scripture—and it does get a lot of print-space–it seems that our acquisition of wisdom is important to God. Let’s examine today’s passages to see what the Lord is trying to tell us about our need for wisdom.
A. Psalm 1 points out to us this same dichotomy we have been presented with for the past several weeks now: We can choose the way of sinners/the ungodly (remember Psalm 19 calls this way “foolishness”); or we can choose the way of righteousness/the godly person. It’s either one or the other, no in between. Inspired by God, the author of Psalm 1 wants us to choose to live a life focused on God—a life of righteousness. The wise person, man or woman, chooses to align his/her life with God’s teaching, not the culture’s. The wise person is a servant of (surrendered to) Christ. The foolish person, on the other hand, is captured by wickedness/sin. The righteous ultimately prosper, but the lives of the foolish are ultimately—in the words of Peter, Paul, & Mary (or even Bob Dylan)–“blowing in the wind.”
B. Verses 10-31 in Proverbs 31 are addressed to King Lemuel.
Scholars believe the description of the wise woman was told to Solomon by his mother, Queen Bathsheba. They think “King Lemuel” may have been her pet name for him. They think this first because there was never a king of Israel by this name. Secondly, they believe this because many of us give our kids nick-names. I called my son, David Morgan, “Rooney” when he was a little guy; and my daughter, Meredith Claire, “Merry Sunshine.” There is no rhyme or reason to these sorts of names. We just make them up and then use them, privately, out of affection and love. I imagine this name was may have been a private joke between them.
Whatever the case, Mamma Bathsheba is trying to convey to her son what he needs to live a good life. God bless her! By the time he died, he had 700 wives & 300 concubines! Surely, as she observed him acquiring all these women, she must have wanted him to realize he only needed one good woman. He didn’t need a beautiful wife or a woman who would bring with her grand political alliances. He certainly didn’t need a woman who would introduce him to foreign gods (as many of them did). Instead, he would have been so much better off with a virtuous wife, a woman of character, strength, & real ability; someone faithful; a helpful partner to her husband; energetic, not lazy; someone who would spend the family money wisely; someone who would manage the household (including raising children) wisely; someone kind and generous; someone wise in the ways Solomon was not. Sadly, as history bears out, Solomon did not listen to his mother. More’s the pity!
C. James 3:13-4:8a—James is in total agreement with our Psalmist. He, too, asserts there are two kinds of wisdom in this world: heavenly, or Godly wisdom and earthly, unspiritual wisdom. James says this latter kind is characterized by disorder and every evil practice. It is more than us just being what one of my doctoral professors termed “our bad old selves.” Rev. Dr.J. Vernon McGee writes, “the wickedness of the world is not merely human, but human plus something” [the devil]. In verse15, James says (people who are bitter, envious, or selfishly ambitious have chosen a ‘wisdom’ that)…does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. According to James, we have a choice as to which kind of wisdom we pursue.
Furthermore, he asserts that people will discern which we have chosen by the way we live our lives. Sometimes our choice of evil living shows in our faces. I once counseled a young woman who had been incested by her father for a period of years. He had impregnated her when she was only eleven. She miscarried that baby and finally escaped him by going to live with her aunt. When I met her, she was engaged to marry a really dear young man. Her father told her he would pay for a big wedding if she would allow him to walk her down the aisle. In my spirit, I thought, “No way! It’s not worth it!” But the decision was hers to make. She asked me to attend her wedding and when I did, I saw her father for the first time as he escorted her to her groom. Even if I hadn’t known what he had done, I would have sensed that something was off about him. He looked utterly debauched. It was as though his sin was written on his face.
Those of us who instead seek Godly wisdom will live lives that are (v.17) pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive [surrendered to God], full of mercy & good fruit, impartial, and sincere. Like Paul demonstrates in his sin lists, James is concerned that we make wise choices in the way we live our lives. James is essentially saying we should live out the traditional Boy/Girl Scout virtues (e.g., kind, courteous, trustworthy, etc.).
Finally, James (vv.7-8) urges us to (1) submit our lives to God and (2) resist the devil. We must always be aware that he niggles about in our ears, trying to tell us stuff designed to lead us astray. We need to recognize that these sinful or destructive thoughts come from him—human plus something! And (3) then we need to tell him to beat it! “Get out of here, Satan, in the name of Jesus!” Again, tuck in with God–right under His arm—and He will embrace you.
D. Mark 9:30-37–Jesus has just finished telling them He is a Messiah who must suffer and die (in order to rescue us from our sins).
They park on His identity rather than His mission. They focus on His role, His title, and overlook the fact that He was sent to earth to die for our sins and rise again. They then begin to argue over who will have which position in what they envision will be His upcoming regime: No doubt, Judas wanted to be Secretary of the Treasury; Peter, Secretary of Defense, or of Homeland Security; Doubting Thomas, the “show me” Apostle, for Attorney General; the loving, charitable John, Secretary of Health and Human Services; etc.
In response, Jesus gives them the first “children’s sermon” If you want to be greatest, be like a child, the servant of all. If you want to be first, make sure everyone is served before you. In other words, be humble, loving, and not hung up on yourself. True wisdom comes from dying to self, from controlling “the sinful man,” or “our bad ole selves.” We need to focus on obeying God–just as Jesus did–and on loving others—just as Jesus did.
How wonderful that we are not left clueless about pursuing wisdom! This morning, God has used 4 different voices to teach us how to develop wisdom. It turns out that wisdom is within our grasp. Wisdom is possible for us to attain. It’s involved in all the choices we make, on a daily, hourly, sometimes minute-to-minute basis. Our God wants us to be wise and He is rooting for us!
I want to close with this story about the car manufacturer, Henry Ford (as reported in Today in the Word, 4/1990, p.27):
Automaker Henry Ford asked electrical genius Charlie Steinmetz to build the generators for his factory. One day the generators ground to a halt, and the repairmen couldn’t find the problem. So Ford called Steinmetz, who tinkered with the machines for a few hours and then threw the switch. The generators whirred to life—but Ford got a bill for $10,000 from Steinmetz. Flabbergasted, the rather tightfisted car maker inquired why the bill was so high. Steinmetz’s reply: for tinkering with the generators, $10.00. For knowing where to tinker, $9,900. Ford paid the bill.
Please note that Steinmetz was more shrewd than wise. But Ford, knowing his assembly line was sitting idle and his plant output reduced to zero without functioning generators—and recognizing Steinmetz’ ability to correct that—was wise to pay it. This week, and always, let’s focus on making wise, godly decisions. Amen! May it be so!
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams