I’ve been studying the book of Proverbs the last several weeks. The book’s calls to acquire wisdom are unending: serious repetition throughout. The advice I recieve from other people often leads in many different directions: read more, watch tv less, work harder, volunteer more, invest in friends, give, get a mentor, get another degree, slow down, do more, work longer, stop, be silent. Proverbs boils it down: “Get wisdom!” I believe many of the frustrations and questions people have boil down to the need for Biblical wisdom. Wise people know themselves, know what to do, and know how to do it.
Proverbs starts out with a foundation for wisdom. In verse 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When you step back from this verse, it seems a strange statement. Wisdom begins with fear? Not just any fear, but a fear of the Lord. One thing is certain, we must get this. If we miss it, we might miss wisdom.
The fear of the LORD is more a fear of His displeasure than His discipline. Using a child as an analogy, if a child does the right thing because he doesn’t want a negative consequences or discipline, that is an external form of behavior modification. Fear of the LORD is internal. When a child loves his parents so much that their displeasure breaks his heart. To hear, “you’ve disappointed us son” is worse than, “you’re grounded.” As a parent, the child with the softer heart is more likely to do the right thing and change. This is how I understand fear of the LORD. Our love for Him makes us want to please him more than anything. We HATE to displease him. We want to say with Jesus, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). If need be, the Lord will use discipline to teach and guide his children, but its better when they value their relationship with Him so highly, that the idea of Him being displeased drives them to seek obedience.
So how do we know if we have a righteous fear of the Lord?
First, we look at our private lives. What do we do, say and think when no one is around? If the private life is out of control, there could be a greater fear of other people than fear of the Lord.
Second, we look for ways we relax the commands of the Scripture. Following the commands of Jesus should be challenging. It’s often the case that the more we grow, the further we see we have to go. There is no room for coasting.
Third, we reflect on what truly motivates us. Are we more concerned with what our bosses, co-workers, friends, and students think than what God thinks? This is the constant battle of the Christian life: to live life with the audience of one.
To cultivate a heart that increasingly fears the Lord, we must know him better. We consume the Bible with a driving hunger to know him. We seek him in His law handed down through Moses. We seek him in the stories of the Old Testament. We seek him in the Psalms of David. We seek him in the wisdom of Solomon. We seek him in the words of the prophets. We seek him by watching Jesus. We seek him by listening to Jesus. We seek him in the story of the early church. We seek him in the New Testament writings of Paul, Peter, James, and John. And all for wisdom that comes through knowing him and fearing him for who he really is.
Gaining this wisdom will take work, but Proverbs promises it will be worth it. Again and again, we are told to get wisdom. Let us calibrate our lives to this end.