Monday, September 17, 2007

A Sermon on Proverbs 9:8-12 and Luke 14:25-33, "The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon is on both the Old Testament reading, Proverbs 9, which I will reread for you, and the Gospel reading Luke 14. Though they are not directly related, both share the theme of godly wisdom. My aim today is that you would gain godly wisdom, by the fear of the Lord. The passage from Proverbs 9:8-12,
8 Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
9 Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.
10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.”

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Proverbs chapter 9 we have a contrast between the way of the mocker and the way of the wise man. A mocker is one who scorns instruction, laughs at advice, and hates the rebuke of God’s Word. The reason that a mocker cannot bear the rebuke of the Lord is that all that he does is right in his own eyes. A couple of weeks ago we heard the text from Hebrews that says the Lord disciplines those He loves. Rebuke is one form of discipline, and it is often unpleasant at the time. If we walk in the way of the mocker, we will hate the discipline of the Lord.

But there is another way for us than the way of the mocker, and that is the path of the wise man. God’s call to wisdom is that we would learn to realign our thinking with God. Seeking godly wisdom is about bringing our thoughts, beliefs, and life into alignment with God’s way of thinking. And this is what is so difficult for the “mocker” in every one of us. The old sinful nature in us stubbornly rebels against this realignment in thinking. But the wise man welcomes rebuke, and loves the one who rebukes him. For the wise man knows that he can learn from rebuke, and become wiser still. He sees that God is at work to guide and teach him in righteous paths. By being “teachable” we become wise.

So what is God’s purpose in rebuking us, through the Word of Scripture? There are many wrong paths that we can head down in life, and rebukes are like God’s messengers standing in that wrong path, or like road signs warning you to turn around. Caution! Danger ahead! Road Closed! Wrong Way: Do not Enter! Etc. Many have traveled far down those paths before hearing and listening to those rebukes from the Lord, and turning back to the path of righteousness. One of the greatest mistakes that we make, however, is to be heading down a wrong path unknowingly, and finally hearing that rebuke or warning, but ignoring it and continuing down that path. I have heard that some people say that they are just too guilty to come to church or believe, because they have led such a reckless life before, and that God could never forgive them. Or to settle so far into our sinful path that we see no point in turning back to the right way.

It is never too late to change our behavior or our beliefs. And Christ is not slow to forgive when we confess our sins. There is one path, one way to heaven, and that is the path of Christ, whom Scripture calls the wisdom of God. Though that path is narrow, God gives rebukes and warnings down the false paths we might stray onto, to keep us on the right path. Rebukes may come through people—fellow Christians, pastors, parents, or they may come through the discipline of consequences in life. Sometimes the consequences of our actions are rebuke enough to teach us that we have gone down the wrong path.

I can compare this to how certain persons in my life (my parents) gave me many warnings about speeding when I first began to drive, but I didn’t listen until the consequence of getting my first ticket rebuked me. But of course, I didn’t completely learn my lesson, and though I continued to be a reasonably safe driver with no accidents, over the next 3 or 4 years, I got a ticket for going through a red light (it was debatable, I thought), speeding again (I was following someone else!), and disobeying a right-turn only sign (traffic was clear in my lane!). For each ticket there was a protest and an excuse, a self-justification for why I really shouldn’t have gotten it. But if I had only heard the rebuke and instruction of my parents and the traffic laws at first, I would have saved myself a lot of costly tickets and higher insurance premiums. Even though I could ignore my parents’ advice and the traffic laws, the consequences of my driving eventually caught up to me. So I had to learn from repeated consequences to change my behavior. Like the mocker in our text, I stored up my resentment for those correcting words of wisdom. I always knew better, or so I thought. As our text says, “If you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.” The consequences that fell on my own head were my prize for ignoring instruction.

Pride is always the biggest obstacle to realigning our life and our ways to God’s way of thinking. Our own way always seems right in our eyes. After all, who is a better expert on our own lives than ourselves? But the wise man heeds advice. He seeks it out and listens to gain learning.

Our proverb continues, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” True wisdom grows from the fear, love, and trust in the Lord above all things, and from knowledge of the Holy One of God, who is the source of all wisdom. I already mentioned that the Bible calls Christ the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and it also says that God has made Christ “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). In today’s Gospel reading you will see that Christ teaches us about godly wisdom. Christ’s wisdom comes as a rebuke about counting the cost of discipleship.

We are always startled and puzzled by the harsh words that Jesus spoke here, and in several other places, about the cost of discipleship. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” If the hard moral teachings of the Bible cause us to stumble, how much more the teaching of discipleship and the cross! What can Jesus mean about hating your family and own life? Doesn’t Jesus elsewhere teach that we should not only love our neighbor, but even to love our enemies as well? That a husband and wife should remain faithful to each other, and that children should honor their parents?

Those Christians who have left religions such as Mormonism or Islam or Judaism to become Christian, know what it means to have father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters turned against them. They know the isolation and rejection that can happen when one follows Christ instead of the false gods of other religions. Those of us who have the blessing of our immediate families being Christians do not know how fortunate we are. But each person must count the cost of discipleship. Whether raised in a Christian or non-Christian family, our call to discipleship means that nothing and no one, even our closest family—no, even our own life!—cannot be more precious to us than God.

This is another call for us to realign our thinking with God. Family relationships cannot be prized above our identity as Christians. Ask yourself, “Is full acceptance in my (non-Christian) family more important than my commitment to Christ? Am I willing to live out my Christian faith before my family, or am I going to hide it to protect earthly relationships that are more important to me?” Jesus Himself declared that His true mother and brothers were those who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 8:21). In other words, we recognize that our new identity as Christians is as part of the family of believers, and not our earthly family. Our faith may in fact divide our relationships and families. This is part of the cross of a Christian. But how blessed are those whose earthly families are also united by faith.

As we consider Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow Him, we wonder why we are carrying a cross. Of course to carry a literal cross is something that one only does in preparation for their own crucifixion and death! Christ bore His cross forward to His crucifixion and death on Calvary. Yet our bearing of the cross is different. We are not marching on toward our crucifixion and death, but it has been reversed for us! We have already been crucified and died, with Christ in our baptism. In our baptism we have taken up that cross and gone forward into a life where suffering and trial is a part of discipleship. But for us the cross is light and easy, for the burden of sin has been lifted from us in Christ’s death on the cross! When we carry our cross, we face the rebuke and discipline, but it is not the hostile rebuke and scorn that Jesus faced as He made that deadly march to Golgotha, but rather the loving rebuke and discipline of the Lord that schools us in paths of righteousness. We do not march on bearing the guilt of our own sin as a heavy burden, but we say with the Psalmist, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Ps. 130:3-4). We can have a holy respect and awe of God, because He has shown us such amazing mercy in forgiving our sins in Christ Jesus.

When we return to our initial theme that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we can see how realigning our thinking with God’s thinking can be of great blessing. First of all, we are warned and rebuked in life to turn away from the path of folly, to turn away from sinful behaviors and from false beliefs that lead us into harm. Secondly, as we count the cost of discipleship, Jesus shows us that we have been given a new identity, apart from the identity we find in the world or in our family, but an identity that is rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ. Lastly we consider the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ Jesus.

In the final part of Jesus’ parable on discipleship, He gives two examples of the wisdom of counting the cost. The first is about estimating the cost and supplies required to build a tower. The second is about a king considering his strength to go into battle against an enormous enemy. In our life, if we have counted the cost of discipleship, we will see that following Christ may lead to separation from family and the trials of bearing our cross. Then we will also want to know if we have the supplies and strength to go forth in our life. Will we have the resources to go forward in discipleship, or to face the host of spiritual enemies that rise against us? Thanks be to God! The foundation for discipleship and the resources to complete the walk of discipleship are all supplied for us in Christ the church’s one foundation, and in our baptism into His death and resurrection. Through faith we are the recipients of all His benefits. And how can we engage the legion forces of the devil and his demons if we are not standing together with the holy army of saints and martyrs strong, who engage in the spiritual warfare of life behind our Victorious Champion, the Christ, who has sealed the victory for us?

But we have a Lord and Savior, who has fully counted the cost of salvation, and paid the price in full. As Christians we are not independent contractors who have to go out on our own and gather the resources and supplies to complete the tasks we are given, but Christ our master builder is the foundation itself, and He supplies all our needs and gives us the strength to walk in discipleship each day. Jesus will see our life through to completion, and guides us by His wisdom. And in the spiritual battles of temptation in life, we are not scattered foot soldiers fending for ourselves, or members of an army that is outnumbered and doomed to surrender, but rather we are marching in the ranks of the armies of heaven, who follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who rides forth against His enemies dressed in a robe dipped in blood (Revelation 9:11-16). And it is Christ our King’s own blood shed on the cross that has won for us the victory against Satan and all his powers. So now go forward confidently in godly wisdom and fear of the Lord, knowing that you are marching forward from the redemption of Christ’s cross, and that you stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians who have become your own family in Christ. Knowing that we have been supplied for every task, that you stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, and that we bear our crosses with Christ for a little while, knowing that in Him we have the promised victory. Amen!

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

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