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The Unpopular Key to Biblical Wisdom

Why do so many who want wisdom struggle to find it? Solomon can tell us, but his answer might be hard to swallow.

If you’ve read the Bible’s ancient library of sage counsel – the book of Proverbs – then you know where wisdom begins: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). So, there it is. Fear God and you can be wise. Simple, right?

Well, if being wise were as simple as just fearing God, then why does wisdom still seem so elusive for so many of us?

You might think, “I fear God, I love Christ, and I want to be wise, but I still struggle to know how to make good decisions.” Perhaps you find yourself drawn back into some besetting sin over and over again, and you wish you knew a wise, biblical path to break that horrible cycle. Maybe your friends are asking you for godly counsel, but you feel ill-equipped to respond with anything more than anecdotal tips. Isn’t wisdom part of the fearing God package deal? Why can’t I seem to find the wisdom I so desperately need?

As we’ve taught through the book of Proverbs in our young adult ministry recently, I’ve been struck by the consistency of Solomon’s answer to this common predicament. The key to wisdom isn’t age – Proverbs is addressed to Solomon’s son, probably in his teens or twenties. The secret isn’t experience either – as Bruce Waltke has noted, “The world’s wisdom is live and learn. God’s wisdom is learn and live.” And while Solomon does repeat that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10, 19:23), that reverent awe isn’t an automatic connection to wisdom. Solomon tells us that there’s one more needful ingredient for wisdom to work in our lives, and it’s probably not what we want to hear.

In a word, the unpopular key to biblical wisdom is teachability.

Proverbs Teaches Teachability

Think about gaining wisdom like building a house. The fear of Yahweh is the concrete foundation and teachability is the metal rebar firmly planted in the foundation that attaches to the frame of biblical wisdom. Without the foundation, everything would fall apart, and you could never begin building. But you also need for the foundation to connect to the frame, or else the frame would just slide off or blow away. That connection is teachability – the bond that seals the fear of God and God’s revealed wisdom.

Now, you won’t find the word “teachability” in any translation of Proverbs, as far as I know, so I need to defend that word for a second. Why use that word? Well, because teachability implies at least two things: First, it implies a humble acknowledgment that one needs to be taught. Second, it implies a willingness, even an eagerness to be taught. And Solomon tells us in Proverbs that those two elements are essential to gain wisdom.

One of the most common synonyms for “wisdom” in the book of Proverbs is the word translated “instruction” or “discipline” – Solomon uses it 29 times. “To know wisdom and instruction,” “to receive instruction in wise dealing” “the reproofs of discipline are a way of life.” According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, it’s a word that describes “correction which results in education” (TWOT, 386). Think chastening, admonishing, reproving. Gaining biblical wisdom requires being told that we are wrong about something and then shown the right way. That is, to become wise we must first be teachable.

Solomon also speaks explicitly about the need for humble receptivity in Proverbs.

  • Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
  • Proverbs 9:9 “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”
  • Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”

Consider Solomon’s instructions to parents, to children, to sluggards, to kings – to every category, Solomon says essentially the same thing: Know that you need wisdom. Receive this teaching. Don’t reject it. Don’t assume you’re above it. If you would be wise, listen and learn.

Solomon goes further still and structures his introduction to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) with a repeated refrain to be teachable. Israel’s wisest monarch begins the ten segments of his introduction with “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,” “My son, if you receive my words,” “My son, do not forget my teaching,” “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction…” By the time you get to Lady Wisdom’s loud calls in chapters 8-9, the message rings loud and clear: If you want wisdom, you need to be humbly receptive to it, not hard-hearted, arrogant, self-assured, or proud. Even the skeleton of Proverbs is a sermon about teachability.

And if that weren’t enough to emphasize the dire need for teachability in the pursuit of wisdom, Proverbs also contains several paragraphs that commend teachability at length. Take, for example, one of the most famous passages in Proverbs, but listen for humble receptivity in it:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:5-7

Allow me to restate it paradoxically this way: The wise know they’re not wise because wisdom comes not from us but from God. To gain wisdom requires teachability, a basic acknowledgment that I do not have the wisdom I need, but that it comes from outside of me, namely from God’s revealed wisdom in his Word. So, to be wise, I must start with the right posture: teachability.

And Solomon goes on to say that if I approach the Bible with that humble, contrite, dependent, open-handed attitude, earnestly looking for wisdom, God will give it.

If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 2:4-6

Teachability involves a meek acknowledgment that we need to be taught, and then a desire to be taught in order to gain God’s precious wisdom. The seed of biblical wisdom can only grow in the soil of godly fear, but the soil needs to be plowed by a teachable spirit first. Solomon lived this truth in his relationship with the Lord (1 Kings 3:1-15), and so he teaches us from the experience of his divine encounter with the God Only Wise. If you want wisdom, you first need to be teachable.

Think about the wisest people you know – maybe it’s a godly older couple in your church, or a mentor, or your pastor. Doesn’t it seem like the wisest people you know are also the humblest? That’s not a coincidence, but a demonstration of Solomonic cause-and-effect. They are wise precisely because they’re so teachable. The unteachable never learn, so they never grow. The humble never stop growing. Wisdom comes to open, lowly, receptive, teachable hearts because they know that they need God to teach them.

Practically Practicing Teachability

If you’re convinced that teachability is the hinge on which biblical wisdom turns, then what does it look like in working boots? How do we put this into practice?

First, we need to see that organic relationship between a fear of the Lord and teachability. We’re born arrogant, and our default setting is obstinance, not humility. So, if we would become tender-hearted, receptive learners, we need God to humble us. We need to be confronted with the awful majesty and blazing holiness of the Triune God. We need to be abased before our Sovereign, All-Wise Creator, to look up at God, not down at him. When God reveals himself to us such that we fear him, a natural, appropriate response is neediness, humility, and teachability.

So, practically speaking, if you want to seek wisdom well but you find your heart standing over God and his Word, then run to the throne room of God so you can feel as small as you really are. Read Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6, and Revelation 4. Read God’s self-exalting response in Job 38-41. Consider with a circumspect heart the humbling wisdom of Moses in Psalm 90. Do everything in your power to take in the grandeur, scope, and splendor of the infinite God, and then ask with David, “What is man that you’re mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). Grow in your fear of God, and you will fuel your teachability.

Second, run to the cross of Christ to discover both the depth of your own sin and the confounding profundity of God’s wisdom. Here’s how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The cross of Christ teaches us teachability because it reminds us not only of our sinfulness and spiritual poverty but also of God’s infinite riches in wisdom and glory on display in his Son. When we go low, he is high. As we decrease, he increases. The cross beautifully summarizes our need for wisdom and God’s wise provision.

Third, ask yourself some heart-exposing questions from the wisdom of King Solomon.

  • When someone tries to gently correct me, do I justify myself or gratefully receive their insight? (Proverbs 15:32)
  • When faced with a challenging situation, do I look for guidance primarily in my past experiences or in God’s Word? (Proverbs 1:29-33)
  • Do I try to hide sinful behavior, or do I confess it to others and ask for help to fight it? (Proverbs 27:6)
  • Which do I want more: to be seen as wise or to be wise? (Proverbs 17:27, 18:2)

Though it strains against our selfish fiber, the key to biblical wisdom truly is teachability. If we would get a heart of wisdom, then we should pursue humble receptivity to God’s Word and biblical counsel. Wisdom’s house can’t be built without the stable steel of a teachable spirit. May God grow in us a longing to be taught by his wisdom today.

Originally Published on thecripplegate.com at http://feeds.thecripplegate.com/~r/TheCripplegate/~3/mjknTe_l8ZI/

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