Friday, May 8, 2015

Gaining Wisdom

This is the second post about wisdom. The first is here.

An appropriate question to ask at this point is simply this: how can a person gain wisdom? The Bible is quite clear about where to start.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9.10

The fear of the Lord. There is a problem here for many. Being afraid of God is out of vogue. As a result, there are quite a few Christians who don't know what to do with a verse like this. That means that there are quite a few Christians who don't know the first step when it comes to gaining wisdom. And the reason is that they have not been taught what this fear of the Lord actually is about.

There is a kind of fear that is the dread of a slave before a harsh master who has the power of life and death and is not afraid to use that power. And it's not as if this master has to worry about someone holding him accountable for what he does with his slave. The slave is his property. He can do with him as he pleases. That is one kind of fear, and the Bible speaks about it.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4.18

But fearing God has nothing to do with that scenario. We are not slaves, and God is not harsh master.

The fear of God that Proverbs praises is rooted in the awareness that we are accountable to God. Our lives are going to be evaluated. Like the servants in the parable of the talents (Matthew25), one day we will be called upon to give an account of what we did.

There are lots of places in the Bible that speak about this.

First, Peter.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile…  1 Peter 1.17

Next, Paul.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5.10

And now, Jesus.

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16.27

Our lives are going to be evaluated.

Unfortunately, way too many Christians think of this in terms of being in trouble. God is going to get them for all the evil things that they have done. Not even close. This is where I get to include just some of the verses that talk about rewards. There will be a reward for those who were faithful.

Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them [God's laws]there is great reward. Psalms 19.11

Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges [evaluates] on earth.” Psalms 58.11

The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward. Proverbs 11.18

And this is not just some Old Testament thing. Jesus adds His two cents.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5.12

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6.6

Why do we think that being evaluated means bad things happening? It doesn't sound like it from these verses. (And there are more!)

Now, here's an objection that might come up in response to this kind of thinking. 'There's no way that I will get any reward. I've sinned so much that the only thing that I can expect is going to be bad.' So, who are all those verses written to? Perfect people? Is that who Jesus was talking to? No, all of that was for people just like us, people who sin. This is where the grace of the Gospel is so precious. The Father knows all about our sinfulness. But He has provided for that. Jesus has come to deal with our sin. So, when the Spirit points out some sin, all we need to do is repent of it and come again to Jesus for forgiveness and for change. And that repentance includes going back into the fray to work at living as faithful disciples. And the next time the Spirit points out some sin, we do it all over again. That's a part of the Gospel. People who sin, people like us, can still expect a reward.

And that explains how the fear of the Lord motivates. To be sure, there is the threat of bad things happening if we goof off, that is, if we refuse to repent when the Spirit points out some sin. So, we know not to fall into that trap. But there is also the promise of reward. Think of it: reward! As much as the motivation is to avoid the bad, how much more is it to gain the good? It's from here that wisdom can begin to grow. More on that next time.