Learning To Fear
Back several years ago when I was working in construction building houses, I remember one particular electrician who was working in the house while we were finishing things up, and he was complaining about a new guy who just started working for him. This new guy was young, straight out of tech school, with some kind of degree or certificate or whatever in electrical work. And the boss’s complaint that day was how these new guys come straight out of school, they can draw an electrical circuit on paper, but they’ve never actually wired a house. And that they might know all the right words to say, and the symbols for the diagram, but when it comes to wiring up a circuit in real life, they didn’t actually know what they were doing.
In a similar situation, which was a little more comical and I got permission to share, our family had a massive garage sale last weekend, and the kids worked really hard, and mom worked really hard, and at the end of the day we were all exhausted, and I said, hey let’s take the cash from the sale and go out to eat, celebrate our hard work. Well, we decided to try something new, some of the kids had never been to Olive Garden, and they were open later than most, so we pull in the parking lot at OG, and one of the kids said, “Oh, no, not Olive Garden! It’s all healthy stuff here, and girls just like to come here because it’s healthy, and I don’t really like healthy stuff!” We laughed about it too and then said, Stella, have you ever been to Olive Garden? Have you eaten here before? She said, well, no.
There is a difference between simply knowing about something, and actually experiencing it. There’s a difference between hearing about Olive Garden, and actually eating the breadsticks with garlic butter dripping off your fingers. There’s a difference between drawing an electrical circuit and wiring a house.
We are now a couple weeks into our series from the book of Proverbs, and what we’ll find today in chapter 2 is that there is a difference between knowing about God, hearing stories about what he is like, having some ideas about his character – there is a difference between knowing about God and actually experiencing him. Knowing about God is simply being able to draw an electrical circuit on paper. But you don’t truly know God until you risk it, and throw your life on him.
Last week, we read Proverbs 1, as a father figure presented to his son the two primary voices he would hear in his life – the voice of temptation, and the voice of wisdom. Temptation’s speech sounded pretty good – “Hey kid, we’re going to attack someone who doesn’t expect it – hope you’re okay with hurting someone else – but if you jump on the team, you’ll get a bunch of free things and we’ll split the loot with you when we’re done. No one will have to know what happened!”
And in my imagination, I see the dad taking his son’s face in his hands, and saying “Listen to me! Don’t go down that road! It’s a trap, and at the end you die. Instead of listening to temptation,” the father continued, “Wisdom calls out for you and says, ‘Don’t just live for yourself. Don’t ignore what is right, just so you can have some fun and get some free stuff.’ There’s a better way to live, son! And son, I can’t promise you that life will always be perfect, but if you don’t listen to wisdom, well, it’s a house built on the sand and things don’t end well.”
And before we jump into chapter 2 today I want to take you back to the beginning, back to Proverbs 1:1-7, so if you have scripture with you, please turn there with me.
Proverbs 1: The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:  For learning wisdom and discipline; for understanding insightful sayings;  for receiving prudent instruction in righteousness, justice, and integrity;  for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced, knowledge and discretion to a young man-  let a wise person listen and increase learning, and let a discerning person obtain guidance-  for understanding a proverb or a parable, the words of the wise, and their riddles.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Now, the first nine chapters are still the dad speaking, so we don’t actually get to the actual proverbs until chapter 10, but here at the beginning, we are told what they are all about once we get to them. They are for learning wisdom, correction, understanding; for receiving instruction in righteousness (that is meeting God’s standards for right living); justice (that is fairness, making wrongs right); and integrity (that is consistency, uprightness, etc); for teaching shrewdness (that is managing someone’s affairs carefully and making good, well planned decisions); skillfulness and good decision making.
The book begins by saying the key to the whole thing is the fear of the Lord. So the question that chapter two sets out to answer is, “How do you get the fear of the Lord? How do you know God?” If that’s the key to wisdom, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, then how do you get it?
Well, that’s where the father goes here in Chapter 2.
 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 silver and search for it like hidden treasure,  then you will understand the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.
Right away you see how to get the fear of the Lord, and knowing God: You see all the “ifs” in those four verses, right?
- If you “accept” my words, (his words referring to what he’s saying here in Proverbs). It means that you take them into your heart, and make it personal – and you store up my commands, which is that you commit these words to memory,
- listening closely to wisdom which literally means to stretch out your ear (pay attention). An ancient Christian historian named Eusebius wrote in the early 4th century that many early Christians were slaves (if you remember the 1 Peter series), and gathered for worship on Saturday nights. They didn’t have copies of the Bible in their own house, so how did they get the Bible? By listening. They would meet on Saturday nights, and at the beginning of their meetings, they would stand for two hours listening carefully as the word was read. Your Bible came through listening. If you didn’t pay attention, you missed the word of God! You can’t carry it out God’s commands or seek his purposes if you don’t take it seriously enough to pay attention.
- Directing your heart to understanding – If you are paying attention to the word of God, you can’t stay focused on yourself. You will focus on him and on his instruction, and your heart will change. Listening and heart change go together. Pastor Ray Ortland says, “You don’t have to hate Jesus to waste your life – you just have to be okay with things the way they are.”1 Man,
- Furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding – Remember Lady Wisdom from chapter 1 last week was crying out in the marketplaces and the streets, and now here, we are instructed to jump into the conversation. We are to cry out as well. But how do we call out for wisdom? What does that mean to “lift your voice” to understanding. James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom you should ask God who gives generously to all without fault and it will be given to him. This “calling out” is prayer!
- If you seek it like silver, and search for it like hidden treasure: This is that you do the hard work of study! Not just reading the words, but searching out the meaning. This kind of searching involves emotions, like when you lose something you want and you can’t find it. There is urgency, and commitment.
So – that’s the list: Accept the words, memorize them, pay attention, spend time in prayer, search the word to make sense of what it’s saying, and when you do those things?
 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.
So by all accounts here in Proverbs 2, it looks like if you want to know the Lord, you have to work for it. You have to put in the time and effort. You can draw an electrical circuit, but if you really want to know electricity, you have to actually grab a spool of wire, some outlet boxes and light switches and make it happen.
Wisdom and knowing God is not like parade candy that just gets flung out to whomever – we have an active role to play in knowing God.
Let me pause for a second to make an important distinction. We are talking about wisdom and knowing God. We are not talking about salvation. We are saved by grace through faith, NOT our own efforts. You’re not saved because you prayed a certain prayer. You’re not saved because you were baptized. You’re not saved because you’ve read the whole Bible or went to church your whole life.
Ephesians 2:8 – For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourself; it is God’s gift –
Even saving faith is a gift of God! Here, though, in Proverbs 2 he’s not talking about being saved, he’s talking about knowing God and learning the fear of the Lord, which sure looks like it actually is a lot about what we do. You are encouraged to study, you have to dig, you have to search, you have to pray, you have to memorize.
This is the whole reason we’re studying the book of Proverbs in the first place! This concept of what we do matters flies in the face of what we call “fatalism”, which is where we throw up our hands and say, “well, God is just going to do whatever he’s going to do. It doesn’t matter if I pray or if I make good decisions or not – he’s going to use whatever I do for his glory anyway.”
This godly wisdom we’ve been talking about is a gift from God, not so that we are saved, but precisely because we’ve been saved! Sometimes it comes through a parent like here in Proverbs, or a mentor, a counselor or a friend, but wisdom is a gift that originates from God himself, and like a drowning person who has been thrown a life preserver, our pursuing wisdom, reaching for it, throwing ourselves on it is a matter of life and death.
And what’s so beautiful is that God makes sure that this wisdom does what it’s supposed to do:
 He stores up success for the upright; ( that word success means completion, finished work ) 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 faithful followers.
Wisdom is a shield of protection, which is a beautiful truth of the gospel! God is developing our character through wisdom, but it’s not our newly developed character that protects us in the end; we maybe able to see some of the lies of the enemy better now, but it’s not our skill at spotting temptation or our strength in overcoming temptations and taking thoughts captive that protects us: it is God who protects us! That is again what makes Proverbs not just a book of wisdom, but a book of good news! It’s good news for people who have messed up, for people who struggle with thoughts, it’s good news for people who don’t think they are strong enough to overcome certain sins that have plagued them for years. The good news is that you have a better protector over your health than you could ever be. Children, money, job, future, etc., and the father here in Proverbs pleads with his son to trust the Lord!
3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight.
With all your heart/in all your ways. This trust is all-encompassing. There is no part of your life that is held back. It’s all his anyway! “Know” = means I resonate with God in what I’m doing, no matter where the paths he has me on will take me. That it’s not just knowing about him, but acting on what I know. And the promise is that he will Make your paths straight = not crooked, not putting things in the road to purposely trip you up - In other words, trust the Lord, he won’t let you down.
I mean look at this: The NT author Jude understood this concept perfectly, and he rejoices in praise:  Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy,  to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.
So here’s the question? Are you really able to protect yourself? Are you really able to keep yourself from stumbling back into those old habits, those old sins? Are you really able to keep yourself from giving into temptation? Are you able to make yourself without blemish? No, but Jesus is not only able to do those things, he is inviting us into the presence of his glory and into his own great joy!
I heard someone in the last two weeks, I think it was on the radio, say, “when you get to heaven, if God asks you why he should let you in, if your first two words are, ‘because I’, you have a problem.”
According to Jude, the only way any of us will ever stand in the presence of God with any kind of hope at all is when that sentence begins with, “because You… You lived the obedient life that I couldn’t live. You were tempted in every way that I was, and you didn’t sin, even when obedience took you to the cross. (Hebrews 4:14) You reconciled me to God when you died in my place, while I was your enemy (Romans 5:10). In your great mercy, you have given me a new birth into a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection (1 Peter 1:3), and you’ve been preparing a place for me, and preparing me for this place. You protected me from falling. You gave me your righteousness, your clean slate, so that I would be saved (Jude).
Wouldn’t we do whatever it takes to know this God who saved us? If all of that is true, wouldn’t we want to search out his word, memorize, pay attention and listen, so that we will know God? It’s not FOR our salvation, it’s BECAUSE we’re saved!
 Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and integrity-every good path.  For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will delight you.  Discretion will watch over you, and understanding will guard you.
As you seek him in his word, you will know the fear of the Lord AND you will understand what God intended your life to look like. And the more you know what God wants, the more you’ll be able to spot the counterfeit saviors, the false promises, the dead-end roads.
 It will rescue you from the way of evil…  So follow the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the righteous.  For the upright will inhabit the land, and those of integrity will remain in it;  but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous ripped out of it.
For the author of Proverbs, in a Hebrew context, to “inhabit the land” was a way of saying you will receive the covenant blessings attached to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the forefathers of the faith. But the wicked, those who follow their own wisdom and refuse to fear the Lord and honor him, will get cut off from the land, ripped out of it.
It matters how you live your life! It’s life and death!
- Some of you in the room claim to be followers of Jesus, but you haven’t risked anything for him yet. In this building it’s easy to be a Christian because there is no risk, but the moment you leave this space, you are back to being tight-fisted with your life. Oh you know about God. You might have half of your Bible memorized, been studying it your whole life, you know all about God. But do you know him?
- For others of you, you might have trusted God with some things, but definitely not with all your heart or in all your ways. Maybe you’ve trusted God with your finances, you’re open-handed and generous, but when it comes to your family? You hold them tight. You make sure you are in control of your kids, their safety and well-being. Maybe you are the opposite. It’s easy for you to trust God with your kids – you know you can only do so much, and God has to move their hearts – but when it comes to money? WHoo. You will be in control of that – that’s none of God’s business. Or maybe it’s something completely different. You trust God with your family, your money, but your future? I am nervous to get too serious with God, because I don’t want him to ask me to go to some other country.
- But that thing you are holding on to so tightly – your children, your security, your financial freedom, your job, your home, your future, your dreams, your comfort zone– that thing you are holding on to so tightly, that thing that it is hard to trust God with – why is that thing so much greater than God? Who is telling you he can’t be trusted (with your kids, finances, job, etc)? Who is telling you you are okay where you are, and you shouldn’t risk it all to follow God? Who is telling you that if you go all in on God, it will not work out well? Is God telling you that?
And see here we are right again back to the beginning, where there are two voices vying for your attention: The voice of temptation and the voice of wisdom.
God is not saying “seek me and I will love you more”. He is saying, “If you seek me, you will find me for all that I am worth!”3 If you seek his kingdom and his righteousness FIRST, he’ll take care of everything else. You’ll find him to be everything he’s promised you he would be, and he will never let you down.
Isaiah 49:23 – those who put their hope in me will not be put to shame
Isaiah 54:4 – Do not be afraid, for you will not be put to shame…
Romans 9:33 – …the one who believes on him [Jesus] will not be put to shame
Sure, following Jesus is costly. I would never try to tell you it isn’t. But, based on those verses alone, God promises that not a single person who has ever gone all in on him has had it backfire or blow up in their face.
Again Jesus is our model. He prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” Then he stood up, and threw himself entirely on the promises and plan of his Father as the soldiers came to arrest him. He was crucified, dead, and buried – and on day 3, the Father kept his word, and raised Jesus from death.
Don’t just be content to know about God.
Trust God. Run from evil. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart be courageous. Wait for the LORD.
- Raymond C Ortland Jr, Proverbs (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 51
- Ibid, 52
- Ibid, 54
- Ibid, 66
Many of the ideas in this message are based on multiple lectures on Proverbs by Bruce Waltke at www.biblicaltraining.org