Wasted Wisdom

Why do really smart people do really dumb things? With regularity, we’re shocked to hear of great men and women who have thrown away their lives with foolish actions or words. Sure, younger people can do some pretty stupid things like I did when I was in my teens. But,  how is it that some who are older and, supposedly, wiser end up following the wrong people and worshiping the wrong things?

The greatest example of wasted wisdom is King Solomon of Israel. “God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding beyond measure” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs (Proverbs 1:1-7), wrote over a thousand songs (including Psalms and Song of Solomon), dissected biology, mediated personal conflicts, arbitrated injustice, and discerned between good and evil. During his lifetime, people came from everywhere on earth, sent by kings and queens, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and stand in awe of his wealth (1 Kings 4:34). There was no one like him (2 Chronicles 9:22-23). Everyone wanted to be like him and be with him.

Tragically, “when Solomon was old, his wives seduced him to follow other gods…Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and he did not completely follow the LORD….the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD God of Israel.” (1 Kings 11:4,6,9). As a result, his family fell apart and the kingdom of Israel was torn apart.

How could the wisest person who ever lived waste his life in the end? If it could happen to Solomon, then couldn’t it certainly happen to me.

How can I make sure that as I get older that I follow the Lord completely and whole heartedly? Here are some thoughts I’ve had after grieving Solomon’s demise and reflecting on his downfall.

Stay in the scriptures and in prayer to develop an ongoing relationship with God (Proverbs 1:1-7, 9:10, 14:26, 15:33, 22:4). Wisdom must be applied to life in dependence upon the Lord (Psalm 127:1, Proverbs 16:3). For all his wisdom, Solomon was seduced to follow other gods rather than stay true to the God who appeared to him — twice. Reading the Bible and talking with God is not just a matter of discipline or spirituality — it’s about a relationship with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer who loves me unconditionally, but cannot use me unconditionally. In order to finish well, I must actively and intentionally follow Jesus and obey Him.

Stay close to godly friends who will tell me the truth about myself. Who were the people in King Solomon’s life to remind him of God’s commands — especially about foreign women. Where were they when he needed them to counsel and correct him (Proverbs 11:14)? We all need friends who will speak the truth in love (Proverbs 27:6). We all need friends who will encourage us to keep going in pursuit of Jesus (Proverbs 17:17, Ecclesiastes 4:12). We all need friends who will keep a confidence (Proverbs 17:9). We need friends who will keep us grounded in Christlike humility. In order to have those kind of friends, I must first be that kind of friend. And the most important friendship for me as a married man is my wife (singular).

An accountability question that I try to regularly ask of my friends, co-workers, and other leaders is, “What do I need to know that I don’t know that you think or fear I don’t want to know?” In order to finish well, I must listen to godly friends who point me to Jesus and remind me of my humanity and my need for my Savior.

Stay away from foolish temptations that will lead me away from a life of integrity (Proverbs 2:10-19, 10:19). King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned his heart away from the Lord. Solomon “loved” too many women. 999 too many. His heart was not completely with the LORD his God. It was his downfall. Satan’s time-proven tactic for trapping many really smart men and keeping them from finishing well is sexual immorality (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:2-22). For men, careless eyes often leads to trouble. For women, is it careless words (Proverbs 14:1)? In order to finish well, you and I must avoid the situations and people who will seduce me to walk away from the Lord Jesus.

The heartbreaking part of Solomon’s story is that he knew what to do. He just didn’t do it. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

In life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish. In relationships, it’s not how you much you know, it’s how you use what you know. Biblical wisdom is applied knowledge. The wise put into practice skills for understanding and living a successful life with Jesus (John 15:4-5, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25). 

As a husband and father, I’m concerned that I could throw away my relationships and influence. As a pastor and preacher, I’m terrified that I could encourage others in their race only to be disqualified in the end (1 Corinthians 10:12). Failure is not inevitable, but self-confidence could lead to a spiritual fall, as it did for Solomon, did so often in Israel’s history, and continues today. The temptations Solomon faced were not unique to him nor are they unique to us in this modern age. The Lord promises to give us grace to handle any temptation we might face as we keep our minds and hearts focused on Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Solomon serves as a warning to us (Ecclesiastes 4:13): even really smart people can do really dumb things.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.


Seeking Wisdom

Over the last twelve weeks, I’ve been walking through the Bible’s wisdom of Proverbs with some godly men who are also great friends. I’ve been encouraged and challenged to live life the “right way” with the Lord God and with others.

forest pathIn Proverbs we’re discussing God’s perspective on money, on love, on relationships, on business, on morality, on government (even politics)—on just about every aspect of life. In Proverbs we’re learning what God wants, what God thinks, who God is, how God responds, and what God expects. The proverbs contain truth about God and, more importantly, how we are to respond to Him in practical ways. In Proverbs we’re discovering the incomparable value of seeking wisdom.
To the ancient Jew, wisdom was much more than simply good advice or successful planning. Wisdom meant being skillful and successful in one’s relationships and responsibilities by observing and following our Creator’s principles of order in the moral universe. Biblical wisdom has little if any relationship to a person’s IQ or education, because it’s a matter of moral and spiritual understanding. Wisdom has to do with character and values. Wisdom means looking at the world through the grid of God’s truth as opposed to the fool whose way is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).
mountain pathWisdom isn’t something theoretical, it’s something very practical that affects every area of life. It gives order and purpose to life; it gives discernment in making decisions; and it provides a sense of fulfillment in life to the glory of God.
There are at least eighteen references to “the fear of the Lord” in Proverbs (1:7, 29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:2, 26–27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 24:21; 31:30). So it’s apparent that the fear of the Lord is a significant part of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 may be the key verse:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning [main part] of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
This statement is amplified in Proverbs 9:10
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy [Holy One] is understanding.”
The six verses that precede Proverbs 1:7 explain why the book was written: to give us wisdom, instruction, understanding, prudence, knowledge, discretion, learning, and counsel. Everything depends on wisdom; the other seven words are practically synonymous with it. And wisdom begins and ends with knowing God personally by faith.
desert pathDuring this lifetime wisdom is reflected by how we live: either the right way of following the Lord or the foolish way of following the crowd. The Hebrew words in Proverbs that are translated “righteous,” “righteousness,” “upright,” and “uprightness” describe ethical conduct that conforms to God’s standards and moral character that comes from a right relationship with Him and to His Word. Righteousness is not living perfectly in Proverbs, but living the right way in dependence on the Lord.
The pages of history are filled with the names of brilliant and gifted people who were smart enough to become rich and famous but not wise enough to make a successful and satisfying life. It’s one thing to make a living, but something else to make a life.
“There is life in the path of righteousness, but another path leads to death.” – Proverbs 12:28
You don’t necessarily need godly character these days to be a success in the world; countless Hollywood celebrities, gifted athletes, dishonest businessmen, and deceptive politicians have proved that. But if you’re concerned with making a good life the right way before God, you must major on building godly character.
Those who follow the wisdom taught in God’s Word will become more skillful in handling the affairs of life. But we can’t think that this wisdom is a set of rules or a collection of “success formulas” that anyone can occasionally apply as he or she pleases. Following God’s wisdom is a full-time, eyes-open, hands-on pursuit. His Word must first work within our hearts and transform our character before we can become the kind of people God can guide and bless.
beach pathThe first step in gaining wisdom is to recognize at the beginning that we do not possess it ourselves. Ha!
If we are going to get wisdom, we will have to humble ourselves before God and ask Him for it. To that end, Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Being wise in one’s own eyes is consistently condemned in Scripture (Judges 21:25; Proverbs 12:15; 26:12; Isaiah 5:21; Romans 12:16). It makes little sense to be full of your own “wisdom” while asking God for His. We must come to God confessing our emptiness and relying upon Him to give us wisdom for the needs we have. Saying “I don’t know” is not a condition of ignorance but a confession of dependence. It is to agree with Jeremiah who says man should not glory in his wisdom, power, nor riches, but in the knowledge of God (Jeremiah 9:23–24).
In this age of information where everything can be Googled, this day of social media where everyone can openly express their opinion, and this world of political correctness where the morality of the majority rules, what we need more than ever before is wisdom. Where can we find it? It’s not a mystery. Wisdom comes from God who offers it freely if we look for it in His Word and listen for it by His Spirit:

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding; furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, if you seek it like mining for silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up success for the upright; He is a shield for those who live with integrity so that He may guard the paths of justice and protect the way of His loyal followers. Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and integrity—every good path. For wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will delight your heart. Proverbs 2:1-10

vineyard pathIn Proverbs, the words “path” and “way” (and their plurals) are found nearly 100 times. Wisdom is a path to walk with the emphasis on the blessings God’s people enjoy when they walk on wisdom’s path. The repeated counsel is that the path of wisdom leads to life, but the way of either active wickedness or passive foolishness leads to death.

Our path of life may not be an easy one, filled with both trouble and sorrow, but it will always be a fulfilling one as we walk in the will of the God by knowing His Word, trusting His providence, and guarding our hearts and minds. The counsel of an older father to his inexperienced son in Proverbs is this: whatever it takes and whatever it costs, find wisdom. Happy is the man who finds her and gains understanding.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I’m thankful for the godly men the Lord Jesus has brought into my life to encourage me, counsel me, and point me to the path that leads to life with Him.
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.