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Archive for the ‘Proverb’ Category

Wonderment is a valuable thing. It causes you to ask questions and seek answers. But where might one find answers? For meaning and life, the best and reliable source is the Bible. For beauty and function the best source is the second book of revelation, nature (see “Two Books” for why).

I have been contemplating the idea of wisdom lately. As a grey headed grandfather of seven, I reckon I am supposed to have a bit of that. I have a bit perhaps but feel woefully lacking. By contrast, Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens.” Certainly He has no lack of wisdom and did not have to acquire it, deepen it, or perfect it. Out of His abundance of perfect wisdom “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) Therefore, belonging to Him, I have hope of obtaining a measure of wisdom.

But what is wisdom, why do we need it, and how do we get it?

As I began to look in Proverbs, I observed in chapter two the use of four words in rapid succession, as if repetition meant they were different words for the same thing: wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and understanding. I wondered, how they are related and how they are different. Do they build upon one another or are they different words for the same idea?

I like to come to some level of completion or satisfaction in the study of an idea. I looked up definitions and key passages. I checked the Hebrew words for the various words. And that was when I realized that I was beginning a study that I will not soon finish. The same Hebrew word was frequently translated as different English words. Knowledge seems to be separate, but the other three somewhat interchangeable. I like for words to have exact meanings. Of course, language develops by usage and exact meanings are never going to happen. Even if someone prescribes a meaning, say Noah Webster for instance, the common misuse or connotative use can destroy any simple, straightforward use of a word. So I set out first of all to define terms as would be helpful in my study of them. Following are definitions I am developing for these four words drawn from dictionaries, the Scripture, and experience. 

Truth is information that aligns with reality. It is the basis of all pursuit of wisdom. “He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit.” (Proverbs 12:17) I have added this word because of its foundational status. If there is no truth then seeking wisdom is a fool’s game never to be accomplished. We live in a culture that argues that there is no truth, but then all other discussion becomes meaningless. No one actually operates on the basis of no truth as seen in the fact that most people do life preservative avoidance moves to continue living (you know, things like stopping at red lights and not jumping off of cliffs without aid of parachute or wingsuit).

Knowledge is awareness and familiarity with truth, facts, skills, and propositions. Proverbs 18:15 says, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Prudence is acting now in a way that prepares for the future. Knowledge is useful for the future.

Understanding is the ability to grasp the meaning and value of knowledge and its relationship to other ideas. Proverbs 9:6 says, “Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding.” It is the man of understanding who may acquire and act by wisdom. Contemplating knowledge and how it should be applied leads to understanding. For this reason, it is rare for those who do not consider and muse to gain understanding.

Discernment is the process of evaluating the causes and outcomes of an event. Proverbs 1:2 says, “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding.” Instruction is a word meaning discipline and is part of a disciple’s knowledge. In the verse, discernment is making use of understanding.

Wisdom is appropriate action fitted to the situation based on consideration of prudent and right judgement. “Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her. ‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.'” (Proverbs 8:10-12) Wisdom is the goal because it helps the wise and those under the wise person’s care and gives glory to God, the Author of wisdom.

I have defined these terms in this order because I think that they build upon one another in this particular order. Truth is the basis of knowledge which may lead to understanding, allowing for discernment in a situation, upon which wisdom for action is developed.

Or more simply      T -> K -> U -> D -> W

Obviously, these skills develop in fits and starts and various orders as a situation, study, prayer, or illumination occurs, but I think they are well thought of in this order because of increasing complexity and need of the preceding ones to accomplish.

If I develop clarity on how they are differentiated and taught in Scripture, I will try to share that here. Until then, may God give us wisdom for the living of these days so that we might be like “the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times.” (I Chronicles 12:32)

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This poem is quite simple

Similar to a pimple

Which has really a short life

Full of passion and much strife

 

It causes a stir and pain

May nearly drive you insane

But soon will come to a head

Then burst, forgotten and dead

 

But note how it leaves a scar

The complexion ever mar

Cover it to make it small

Or accept me warts and all

 

Best to never have begun

From quarrels and strife you run

Better bring kindness and truth

Than discord and be uncouth

The first two verses of this poem came to me one day when I was considering strife and its ill effects. I knew generally where I wanted to go with it, but could not see how. Just this morning when I brought it up from my drafts file, the way forward began to dawn upon me. In one sense I might like to have developed the kindness and truth way of doing things more. On the other hand, the first and third lines preclude such a tome, and the short version seems to have punch.

The truth I see behind my verse comes from Proverbs:

17:14 “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.”

3:3 “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

26:17 “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.”

15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.”

See also Proverbs 6:14,19; 10:12, 13:10, 16:28, 17:1,19; 18:6,18; 20:3, 22:10, 26:21, 28:25, 29:22, 30:33. Evidently, avoiding strife and those who promote it is a valuable consideration and pursuit.

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On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

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When I am walking in an unfamiliar part of the woods, I give attention to my feet to avoid snags and stumbles, what is beyond a log I am stepping over, the topography, stream flow direction and size, water, food, daylight left, cloud cover, and sounds. The quietness and loneliness of the woods encourages a tendency toward introspection. But these observations are needed focus; one needs to be circumspect. It is important to give attention to these variables. And it does not mean that I am paranoid or overly worried. Most of these observations are part of the enjoyment of being outdoors. Nature is enjoyable to observe because God has given it much beauty and intricacy. But I have been in enough potentially harmful situations in the woods to look around and take calculated risks.

“The basic meaning of Latin circumspicere is “to look around.” Near synonyms are prudent and cautious, though circumspect implies a careful consideration of all circumstances and a desire to avoid mistakes and bad consequences.” Math students know that a circumference means around a circle. And many types of training from military to pilot to driving to playing sports involves keeping one’s “head on the swivel”. It is important to have situational awareness for many pursuits, both enjoyable and serious.

But this way of walking in the woods is but a metaphor for the more challenging spiritual walk. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” What brought this word to mind happened just last Sunday at my church when we recited our  covenant together,  which includes the phrase, “…to walk circumspectly in the world…” What is the practical outworking of these ideas? Following are a few Scriptures and thoughts on walking circumspectly.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Proverbs 3:7

“Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.” Proverbs 8:33

“prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James 1:22

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 3:3

“And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

There are many hundreds of verses that could be quoted about walking circumspectly. The focus that I intend here is care to avoid pride in the areas of truth and relationship. Or to state the idea in a positive and more casual way, be humble about what you know, teachable, convinced of God’s truth, and be humble and kind in how you relate to others.

We are given many good gifts. One is life. God has a purpose for us being alive.

Another is time. We should use it efficiently. I don’t mean by being a workaholic because of some vague guilt that you must utilize every minute in profit making pursuits. Instead, seek the deeper profit of following God’s leading. It may seem a circuitous route, not at all according to your day planner. Rest is profitable. Stopping to converse is profitable. Enjoying a few moments of contemplating nature is profitable. Completing a job in a timely fashion is profitable.

Another gift is work, because it gives purpose. “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9) 

So, my preliminary, totally non-exhaustive definition of walking circumspectly is be observant and prudent in how you handle truth, relationship, and pursuits so that “whether… you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) May God grant us each a deeper, more careful, more enjoyable walk with Him through this world.

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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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