Pentecost 16c

Preached: September 16, 2007

Wisdom Fears the Lord
Proverbs 9:8-12

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who pours out his Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That Word for today is Proverbs 9.

Do not rebuke a mocker lest he hate you. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Give to the wise and they will be wiser still. Teach the righteous and his learning will increase. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD. Knowledge of the holy one is understanding. For in me your days will increase, and years of life will be added to you. If you are wise, you are wise for your advantage. If you mock, you alone will bear it.

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

Shadows dodge just beyond view. Menacing music anticipates impending doom. Your muscles tense. Your palms sweat. Fear tingles up and down your spine. Is that how it feels to fear the Lord?

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10 NIV), the text says. But before we can listen to what wisdom says to us, let's be sure we know what the fear of the LORD is, since that's where wisdom begins. And this wisdom does not flee from God in terror.

A. Wisdom does not flee from God in terror

1. Although the terror worked by God's Law is not the fear of the LORD, what good purpose does God use this terror for?

This fear of the LORD is not the fear of his punishment. That's the fearful terror God's Law works. That's the fear the sinful flesh, the old Adam, in us feels. That's a slave-like fear. Like a slave driver, this fear wields the whips of guilt and punishment to force the sinner on. It threatens: “If you hurt others, it'll come back to haunt you. If you disobey God, you'll burn.”

By itself such fear can produce outwardly proper actions, just like the fear of getting a speeding ticket may make you slow down, even if you think the law is stupid. But no matter how proper the outward actions, this fear cannot transform our hearts and minds. It does not renew or regenerate. It leaves us just as sinful, just as evil, just as damned.

Now this fear has its use. It threatens and terrifies the sinful self with God's punishment. It drives the sinner to despair of ever escaping from the justice of God's Law. It beats down and pulverizes any hope that our own goodness will measure up to God's holy standards. It creates terror far greater than any horror movie.

Even though this terror worked by the Law is not the fear of the LORD that brings wisdom, God does use it for his good purpose. Don't thwart God's purpose by ignoring this terror. Don't dismiss it with trite excuses: “God doesn't like what I do, but he likes me.” Or “I've tried my best, so that should be good enough.” Such excuses mock God's Law.

Don't you think God is serious when he says to us: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 33:4 NIV). “All have sinned and fall short” (Romans 3:23 NIV). Or think of Psalm 5 that makes it clear that God hates not only wrong things but also all who do wrong. He's talking to you and me. He is dead serious about death and hell. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

2. What good word does the LORD speak to our terrified hearts?

For to your terrified heart and only to the terrified heart the LORD speaks another a word, a good word. This good word is not doubtful or changeable. It is just as sure and certain as his terrifying words of law. For his word does not change. He keeps it always. For he is the LORD, the unchanging I AM, the faithful God.

What is his good, unchanging word to you? Forgiveness not a wishy-washy, I-guess-it-really-doesn't-matter-that-you-sinned kind of forgiveness. No, he speaks a real forgiveness that takes sin seriously, so seriously that the LORD himself came to secure this forgiveness for you, to fulfill the Law for you and take its curse on himself, and so drive away from you the terror of the Law.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11 NIV). “Do not be afraid,” the angel said, “for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:5, 6 NIV). Yes, the price has been paid! Jesus Christ, the LORD, your Lord, took your sin and the terror and punishment of the Law that it brings. He took it all on himself, nailed it to the cross for you. The LORD's forgiveness to you is real because Jesus is real, because his death and resurrection is real. In Jesus the LORD forgives you.

3. Describe how the fear of the LORD, which is the beginning of wisdom, is a childlike fear, not a slave-like fear.

This is where the fear of the LORD begins. For that Good News changes us from terrified slaves into saved children. Children do not cower in terror; rather, good children show honor and reverence toward their parents. They are eager to listen because they honor their words. They want to be like their parents. They stand in awe of what Dad and Mom do. Don't you sometimes here a little child bragging, “My mom loves me more than anything” or “My dad can do anything.” And though as parents we eventually disappoint such high expectations, our heavenly Father never falls short. He can do anything. His love never fails.

Now all children, ourselves included, fall short of the honor and respect we owe to our parents. But imagine the respect, reverence, awe, and honor an ideal son would have toward his father. That's a glimpse of the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom. This fear confesses: “Sinner though I am, I need not flee in terror away from the holy God. For Jesus has taken my punishment. In him I am God's dear child. God is my dear Father.” This fear stands in awe that the holy One would bring us into his family. This fear strives to imitate him. And so wisdom that fears LORD in this way, listens with a child's heart.

B. Wisdom listens with a child's heart

1. What attitude and actions does wisdom's childlike fear of the LORD have towards God's Word?

And so this fear of the LORD, this childlike fear, is the beginning of wisdom. It holds the Word of our God in high regard. Just as a good child pays attention to what her parents say, so this childlike fear of the LORD takes to heart and puts into practice what our God says, for in Jesus he is our dear Father.

Do you see how the first part of the text brings out how the wise man, who fears the LORD, listens? It contrasts him with the mocker who doesn't listen. “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8 NIV). Wisdom listens even when God's Word rebukes and corrects us.

The more we listen to the Word the wiser we become. “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning (Proverbs 9:9 NIV). So make use of every opportunity you have to hear, read, learn study, and inwardly digest his Word. For we can always become wiser in the Lord.

Why does this childlike fear of the LORD listen so carefully and diligently? Because it knows the Father's great love that gave his Son to make us righteous in his sight. “Teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning” (Proverbs 9:9 NIV). That's you and me through faith in Jesus. For through faith we are clothed with Jesus and his righteousness. Through faith you have a right standing before God, washed in Jesus' blood. Our Father has done so much for us! Listen to his Word with childlike fear. Listen whole-heartedly and grow in wisdom.

Now the childlike fear of the LORD not only hears the Word, but it also puts it into practice. That's part of true listening. Proverbs 8 says, “To fear the LORD is to hate evil” (Proverbs 8:12 NIV). Just as a good child wants to be like Dad or Mom, so childlike fear loves what our heavenly Father loves and hates what he hates. As we listen to God's Word with childlike fear, the Holy Spirit changes us with that Word to be like God, to have his mind and attitude, to walk in his ways. For you see wisdom is not just knowing a lot of things. A computer or the Internet accumulates a lot of knowledge but isn't wise. Wisdom lives out what it knows. Wisdom practices it in our daily lives. Wisdom is an inner change that radiates out in all that we do.

2. What does God promise as we live each day in this wisdom that flows from childlike fear of the LORD?

As we live each day in this wisdom that flows from childlike fear of the LORD, we experience God's blessings. Wisdom says, “Through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer” (Proverbs 9:11, 12 NIV).

God wants to bless you, for you are his dear child in Jesus. And remember, even if his gracious wisdom seems to have limited his blessings to you at the present time, he is working for your eternal good. In the end his blessings stored up in heaven for you who believe far outweigh whatever hardship this life might bring. Your Father wants to bless you. He funnels his blessing to you through wisdom. Don't block up that funnel, like a mocker does. Don't block that funnel by not listening to what wisdom says or by not practicing what you hear from wisdom.

Rather listen with a child's heart. Come before your God with that childlike fear that flows from faith in Jesus. For wisdom fears the LORD. This fear does not run away in terror but clings to Jesus and to our heavenly Father in hope and trust, just as a dear child clings to his dear Father. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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