What kind of teacher is God?
When you think about God and his words in the bible, do you think – boring, uninteresting, not really able to hold my attention and teach me anything?
There’s a lot of information in the world now isn’t there? And the rate at which information is being created is astonishing. [8am – How many of you have used the internet? Who feels a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information out there and how do you find your way around it?] [10am – While I’m preaching this sermon there’ll be around 12,000 hours of new video material uploaded onto YouTube! That’s a lot to keep up with. Do you ever think about the fact that if when you start a university course today by the time you finish it most of what you learnt will be out of date!]
Is God responsible for all that information? Does God want us to have to just learn more and more? Does he want to overwhelm us with information or does he have somewhat different priorities for what he wants us to learn from him?
If you think back to your time at school, we all know teachers who just didn’t have the ability to get us engaged and interested in learning. I want to read you a story about how hard it can be to get a group of kids engaged in learning. The story is set in Wales in the 1950's but I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to it.
[Page 52, The Learning Game by Jonathon Smith ] 3-4 minutes
Its amazing how inventive these kids were, and how unable to get them interested in learning French this teacher was. Well, is God like that?
I want to convince you this morning from the book of Proverbs that God is going to engage us in learning from him in really interesting ways.
The value of learning wisdom in Proverbs 1:1-7
At the very start of the book of Proverbs is the assumption that proverbs are all about learning wisdom. The book opens like this:
The proverbs of Solomon son of David king of Israel – for learning about wisdom and instruction
And at the end of this first section is a strong warning: “only fools despise wisdom and instruction”
God is concerned that we continue to learn the way to do things – which is wisdom.
In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is learning how to live in the details of everyday life.
Wisdom is learning from the experience of others about what tends to happen in different situations. Wisdom is thinking hard about what its best to do. Wisdom is being concerned about motivations as well as results. Wisdom is about the complexity of relationships and how to respond appropriately. Wisdom is the art of living honestly together with others before God. Wisdom is how to live in the details of everyday life.
And the assumption of the whole book of Proverbs is that learning this kind of wisdom is a way of life for those who love and fear the LORD. I wonder if that’s true for you, that you are continuing to learn about how to deal wisely with life? [I hope you haven’t settled into a rut thinking that you are too old to learn anything new – its not computers that God wants you primarily to learn, its how to be wise about life.]
[I don’t want you to be under any illusion about how difficult it really is in our society to continue to learn wisdom. If you live in our culture it won’t help you to continue learning what God is interested in teaching.
For in our culture most people don’t want this kind of wisdom, they want their own experiences. The kind of wisdom that the opening of Proverbs describes sounds a bit old fashioned doesn’t it?
Instruction, understanding, insight, doing what is right, knowledge for the young and inexperienced, carefulness, discretion and discernment … These are not the things that people spend their life pursuing today, especially younger people.]
But here at the start of the book of Proverbs are 3 reasons from God about why you should continue to learn this kind of wisdom.
Why continue to learn wisdom?
1st reason: to gain instruction about the good life
Verse 3 tells us that the proverbs in this book are for gaining instruction in wise dealing, and doing what is right and just and fair. Proverbs are not just about big principles of morality – like, should we allow abortion – but rather proverbs are about the details of everyday life. When you read proverbs you will find that they are about issues in every corner of daily life. They are all about wise dealing in day to day life, such as:
Do you learn from situations you’ve been in?
Do you ever listen to advice?
Do you have friends who can tell you that you’re wrong?
What are you like to share a house with?
What are you like to be married to?
Do you say the wrong thing at the wrong time?
Do you calm down arguments with your speech or just inflame them?
These are the kind of topics on which Proverbs has a wealth of insights. As verse 3 puts it, “for receiving instruction in wise behaviour and doing what is right”.
2nd reason to continue to learn the wisdom of Proverbs: Proverbs can put old heads on young shoulders
What will proverbs do for you? According to verse 4 it will “teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young”.
Shrewdness means something like cunning, the ability to get by and achieve results. The “simple” are not those who are stupid, rather it means those who are inexperienced. So what it is saying is that proverbs will give you an understanding of how the world works best if you’re inexperienced. It is big on how to deal with issues that you could only otherwise learn through bitter experience. What is on offer is the chance to learn from other people’s mistakes instead of your own! You may be proud enough to only want to learn from your own mistakes, but I think I’d choose to learn from other people’s mistakes anytime.
3rd reason to continue to learn wisdom from Proverbs: because you never stop learning in life
Proverbs contains the kind of wisdom that never runs out. Even those who are already wise will be able to learn things from proverbs. As verse 5 says:
Let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and those who are already discerning acquire skill
Why seek wisdom? Because you can never exhaust the amount you can learn from proverbs. The wise read and ponder proverbs and continue to gain in wisdom. Proverbs store of wisdom will never leave you bored. You are about to dive into a pool that a child can wade in and an elephant can swim in.
God’s way of teaching us through proverbs
Remember the story that I started with about the teacher who’d completely lost it in his French class? The problem wasn’t really the students – they were incredibly creative as the detailed cricket game that they made up demonstrated. The problem was really with the teacher – he’d been ground into the dirt by classes like this one. Well is God like this? Is he a teacher who’s got all the information in the world but no ability to get us engaged in learning from him?
I don’t think so, God has an incredibly interesting way of teaching us through Proverbs.
Because proverbs are like a prickle in your sock.
They’re meant to tease you, you have to think. You have to kind of go in search of what they mean like you have to find that rotten prickle that’s hiding in your sock.
Here’s an example:
Put up OHT of Proverbs 26:4-5
Doesn’t the first one just contradict the second one? Well no, they can both be true if you think about it. These proverbs are meant to make you think about whether the person your talking to is open to learning something or not. If they’re not there’s a time and a place for sarcasm – answering a fool according to his folly – but if they’re open to learn then there are times when you’ll only make yourself look foolish with a sarcastic response. And the point is its worth thinking about which time is which.
Proverbs are little mini-stories. They’re examples of different aspects of life. They’re observations of something, they’re snapshots not universal truths. And so you have to piece them together, and ponder how they go together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
It makes you think, doesn’t it? We have to tease out all the different complexities about what it really means to be wise in God’s world. This is what proverbs are for. They are meant to get us interested in pondering what a wise response is.
In summary then: God wants us to learn from the experience of Godly people that he’s collected together in this book. He tells us what proverbs will do for us right at the start of the book
that they will make us wise about how to live in the details of everyday experience,
that they will let you learn from the mistakes of others, rather than your own,
and that they are a rich enough store of wisdom for you to keep on learning right through your life.
What a great thing to get stuck into, especially as God’s way of teaching this kind of wisdom is really creative and engaging.