4. sages seeking wisdom

Men are expected to grow in wisdom, becoming SAGES.

Wisdom is something men and women want from day one.  We just go to find her in the wrong place or we listen to the wrong voice,  “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:4-6)

Chad has a respect for elders, authority, and wisdom passed down from men.  This is something absent from Western society.  In fact, authority and trusting the previous generation is forsaken. When making decisions in Chadian culture or whenever I enter a new town I will consult with the sage.  He is usually the oldest, wisest, and must trusted person in the village.  This man typically has white whiskers, sits on a mat most of the day, and is resolves disputes or gives out advice to a myriad of situations.

Wisdom in Scripture is personified as a Lady.  Boys and men are called to listen to her.  As you read Proverbs, particularly the first nine chapters you see that wisdom is a woman who disciplines boys.  When a man has grown up under Lady Wisdom and trusts her words he becomes a sage.

Proverbs is written for men and boys.  There are two things King Solomon emphasizes over and over to his son that are often struggles and for men.  First, be teachable (Prov. 1:7-8; 2:1; 3:1-2, 20; 4:1-3, 10, 20; 5:1; 6:20-21; 7:1-3).  Men are called to be students of many things: students of their wives (1 Pt. 3:7); students of their children (Eph. 6:4); students of God (1 Peter 4:1-5; 2 Tim 3:16-17; Psalm 119:9ff).  Second, be a good listener (13:1; 19:27).  Selective hearing starts as a boy, but men grow into it too.  Third, be thoughtful (e.g. instruction on women, folly, discipline, work, companionship, etc.).

A Christian man thinks.  He seeks lady wisdom.  He is to be a sage that other come from a far to hear.

DISCUSS:

  • What does wisdom look like? 
  • Why is wisdom an aspiration seldom achieved? 
  • At what age do men often become unteachable?  
  • In what domains to men need to be better learners, listeners and thinkers? 
  • What can you do to grow in those areas?

REVIEW: 5 Aspects of Biblical Masculinity

  1. lords of the earth
  2. tillers tending the earth
  3. saviors delivering from evil
  4. sages seeking wisdom
  5. bold and brave image-bearers
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secrets of success [part 2]

We are people who collect. Some collect memorabilia. As a kid I collected thousands of sports cards and now I have boxes in storage gaining dust and I hope values. Some people collect knick-knacks. I’ve seen curio cabinets chalked full of tiny elephants, Boyd’s Bears, teacups, old books, even spoons or thimbles. Others collect compliments, cash, or cachet. While others collect power, prestige, or popularity. In all our collecting we feel like have accumulated success, status, or blessings.

So is there a secret to success? Success or blessing is not simply measured by money or stuff. Much of what you think is blessings can actually be curses. Too much a good thing left unchecked can be a really bad thing. Mass amounts of money can lead to greed. The fight for fame and fortune can leave you bruised and battered by the never-ending saga of pleasing people. Piles of possessions can lead to obsessions. Just watch an episode of Hoarders and you will see how controlling stuff can be. According to the Bible success’ source is in the immeasurable riches of God’s presence and wisdom.

KEY TO SUCCESS #1: GOD’S PRESENCE [Genesis 39]

What seemed like a series of unfortunate events for Joseph actually is a series of divine events preparing him for the next level of spiritual success. Joseph is not wasting away the best years of his life imprisoned in Egypt. God is at work. The unseen hand of God’s providence is always at work. Even when Joseph is far away from his home, betrayed by his brothers, a slave in a strange land, convicted of a crime he never committed, and ended up in prison: still the Lord was with him. “His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.” Psalm 105:18-19

There is no question that one of the main themes of Joseph’s life is the presence of God. In fact, God’s presence is repeated eight times in chapter 39 alone:

  • “the Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man” (39:2)
  • “the Lord was with him” (39:3)
  • “the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand” (39:3)
  • “the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph” (39:5)
  • “the Lord’s blessing was upon all that he owned” (39:5)
  • “the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him” (39:21)
  • “the Lord was with him” (39:23)
  • “whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper” (39:23).

It should be noted, all of Joseph’s prosperity is funneled into the hands of other people. Joseph’s success made Potiphar wealthy [39:5], saved Pharaoh’s kingdom [Ch.41], and rescued Joseph’s family through famine [Ch.42ff]. God blessed Joseph so that he could be a blessing to others. Furthermore, God prospered Joseph so that he might have a testimony for the Lord in high places. Because of his success as a manager, Joseph was able to influence Potiphar, the chief jailer, and eventually Pharaoh himself for the Lord!

Joseph is a preincarnate picture of Jesus who was also unfairly convicted of a crime He did not commit [cf. Isaiah 52:13-53:12]. Like Joseph, He did not protest or complain, but lovingly sacrificed His life for all taking upon Himself the wrath of God and the penalty for your sin. And through it all, God was with Him.

You might think, “I’m certainly no Joseph.” He served in high places, worked among the social elite, impacted nations and governments. For many, the blessings of God do not come in this world. You might feel like God is distant or has forgotten you. I hope you see from the life of Joseph that even in the meekest of situations God is present.

KEY TO SUCCESS #2: GOD’S WORKMANSHIP [Genesis 40]

God is at work. God is at with in and through Joseph. In prison he meets two interesting inmates—a cupbearer and chief baker. The cupbearer must have mixed a bad drink and the chief baker must have made some low-carb sawdust flavored bran muffins to end up in the can. Both work for Pharaoh—the most powerful man on the face of the earth.[1] He used his authority to throw two men in prison that so happen to be in the same prison as Joseph and now placed under his authority. This is not random chance, luck or happenstance. The man with a god-complex seen as a mediator to the gods is a pawn in the hands of the One True God who is at work in the subtle details.

God gave Joseph a gift to interpret dreams. His brothers called Joseph the “master of the dreams” [37:18].  In Genesis 40, God gave a dream to his two cellmates that they could not interpret. So they asked Joseph. God helped Joseph to interpret their dreams. There was good news and bad news. Good news—for the cupbearer—meant he would live and return to his previous post in honor. Bad news—for the baker—meant his head would hang in a noose from a tree. Three days later on Pharaoh’s birthday Joseph’s interpretation of the dream came to pass just as God had revealed.

Joseph could have buried his gift in the ground and kept the meaning of the dreams to himself. He could have thought, “I’m not going to going to help these two numbskulls. Nobody appreciates me around here, anyway. Potiphar wouldn’t listen to me. His wife set me up. These Egyptians are all cut from the same cloth. Why should I go out of my way to help these two criminals?”

Perhaps this is precisely where you are in your church, small group, career or family—disillusioned, discouraged, or annoyed. You have decided that you will no longer serve on the committee, no longer speak up on that issue, no longer be a member of the team, or no longer teach the class. If that describes you, take a long look at Joseph. Lying in that jailhouse he had every excuse in the world just to roll over and play spiritually dead. He had every excuse to hoard his gift. But he didn’t. Instead, he stayed committed to the Lord; he used his gift; and eventually God used that gift to get him into the royal palace of Pharaoh! God works through people—like you. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” [Ephesians 2:10].

What could God do through you if you would only serve him without losing heart? What would you have done if you were in Joseph’s chains? Unfortunately, the immediate result of Joseph’s interpretation got the chief cupbearer restored, but left Joseph in the joint. The cupbearer went back to his work forgot about Joseph even though he had specifically requested that he not be forgotten. But, God did not forget about Joseph nor leave him abandoned in prison. God is at work in and through Joseph to accomplish His purposes. With each “random” incident and the forgetfulness of humans, it is wise to remember with God nothing is accidental or purposeless.

KEY TO SUCCESS #3: GOD’S WISDOM [Genesis 41]

Two years pass and Joseph is still in chains forgotten by his freed inmate. That was until God gave Pharaoh troubling dreams. He was frustrated and tired because he could not understand their meaning. So he called all his pagan magicians and interpreters, but they could not understand the dream. Only God knew the meaning. It was then that God enabled the chief cupbearer to remember how Joseph had correctly interpreted his dream and the dream of the now deceased baker in prison.

Joseph was immediately summoned from his cell. He was bathed, shaved, and clothed in a matter fit to meet the king. Standing before the Pharaoh, Joseph in astounding humility gave all credit to God for his gift, “It is not in me; God.” [41:16]. Joseph told the king that he could not interpret the dream, but that God could and would through him. He then interpreted the dream according to God’s wisdom. In the dream the king would soon have seven years of fruitfulness in the fields, but would be followed by seven years of severe famine.[2] Indeed, God was showing mercy to Pharaoh through Joseph. It was a divine dream with a divine plan to save a region in the years of severe famine.

What an amazing plan. Where did Joseph get his agricultural wisdom? How did he acquire his engineering genius? Did he learn from his father? Or take classes at the local technical college? Did he pick it up in the midst of all his work as a slave? The Bible does not say. What we are sure of is that Joseph relies heavily upon God. He realized that true wisdom comes from above, “With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding.” [Job 12:13] God blessed Joseph with farming and engineering wisdom to the rescue of many people [41:54].

God is wise. He knows all things. He shares that wisdom with His people to help them and show them His mercy and grace. But this begs a question. How do I apply the wisdom of God to my life like Joseph?

First it is good for you to excel in all kinds of wisdom—agriculture, medicine, science, history, arts—and use that wisdom to bless other, but give glory to God who has given you the wisdom. Joseph’s life teaches you to use your career, role, skills, and gifts to serve the God by serving others.

Second, there is another kind of wisdom that may be used to rescue the perishing, eternally. Paul calls it “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” It is a wisdom found only in “the sacred writings” of Scripture [2 Timothy 3:15]. Thus, learning the message of the Scripture—the gospel—and expressing the ability and willingness to share the good news of Jesus clearly, fully, and accurately through your words and actions. Speaking and living out the gospel is sharing the wisdom of God with others. Who knows what position God may put you in, even this week, to rescue someone from spiritual famine! Will you have acquired the wisdom from God to do so?

Who’s the Main Character in this Story?

It is clear the main character in Genesis 39-41—though not explicitly seen—is God. Joseph’s God was in fact supreme because He alone could give dreams, He alone could interpret those dreams, and He alone held the future that He promised could not be altered by anyone, including the powerful Pharaoh. God sent Joseph to Egypt as a sort of missionary to bless that nation according to His covenant promise to bless the nations of the earth through His people whom He blessed [cf. Genesis 12:1-3].  Also setting the stage for God to use another man [Moses] to lead God’s children from Egypt to the Promised Land.

God blessed God with a wife and two sons. In honor of his God and a fitting conclusion to this narrative Joseph give beautiful and thoughtful names to his two sons, “Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” [41:50-52]

It is good to acknowledge sooner than later that success in this life and eternity is found in the presence, workmanship, and wisdom of God. He rules. He is supreme. He is sovereign over all nations and the events of your daily life. He uses events big and small, miraculous and ordinary, easy and hard to accomplish His purposes in the earth in you and through you.

God is a collector too. He has a collection of stars, angels, and created things. He desires to collect the praises of all people and all nations. One day you will all stand before the throne of God with a collection of people from ever tongue, tribe and people group, who will all be bowing their knees and singing praises to the God who is all in all and over all. Success that last has roots in God. All other success is fleeting.


[1] Politically, the Egyptian empire was the most powerful on earth for an amazing 1300 years, twice as long as the famed Greek and Roman empires. Geographically, Egypt was a long and narrow country of about 13,000 square miles isolated by the surrounding deserts, mountains, sea, and valley. Theologically, Egypt was ruled by a succession of mighty Pharaohs who were worshiped as a sort of mediator god who connected life on the earth to life in the spirit realm and alone walked between the two worlds. As deity, the Pharaohs had their pyramids built to ensure their safe passage from this world to the next, and viewed the pyramid as a sort of ladder transporting their soul into the next world. Simply, there was no nation on earth more powerful than Egypt, and there was no man in Egypt more powerful than the Pharaoh whose will was supreme.

[2] According to the dream, the famine would affect both the farm fields [grains] and ranches [livestock] in Egypt. A seven year famine would be devastating for Egypt and surrounding countries that relied upon them as the breadbasket of the world.

Jesus and Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is a unique book of the Bible. It is full of wisdom that will help you understand how to live a life for God. Knowing wisdom does not mean you will be wise, but application of wisdom puts you on the path towards wiser living. Proverbs offers future-oriented wisdom and guidance so you can make wise decisions and live in ways that please and exalt God. Hear are some helpful ways to read Proverbs rightly.

How to Read Proverbs Rightly

1. Use Basic Logic. Read according to the plain meaning of the words, limiting your focus to the central point.

2. Don’t read any Proverb in Isolation. Biblical Proverbs are not like fortune cookies. You must not look at individual proverbs as if they stand apart from the rest of the Bible. The Bible interprets itself, and no single verse or passage is self-contained.

3. Don’t Put God on Your Timetable. Many proverbs speak of certain actions drawing certain responses from God: rewards for obedience and punishment or discipline for disobedience. God’s timing is perfect. Thus, punishment or discipline does not always immediately follow sin, and reward does not always immediately follow obedience.

4. Make God the Goal of Your Obedience. At all times, we need to keep in mind the ultimate reason we read Scripture: To know and obey God. The goal of Proverbs is to grow ever closer to the God who is Wisdom. Learn the way of wisdom by watching Jesus.

Jesus lived Wisdom. Jesus personified the Proverbs-driven life. His life on earth demonstrated continual wisdom, even as a young boy [Luke 2:41-52]. Just as He was perfect in every other way, Jesus perfectly lived the wisdom of Proverbs.

Jesus is Wisdom. Jesus embodies and displays the wisdom which is inherent in the being of God, for Jesus is “wisdom from God,” [1 Corinthians 1:30] and the one in whom are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” [Colossians 2:3]. To see the perfect representation of the wisdom of God in flesh, look to Jesus [Hebrews 1:3].

Jesus is the Way of Wisdom. Because Jesus is wisdom, God calls us to choose His way rather than the foolish way of the world [1 Corinthians 2:6-8]. The wise man chooses Jesus, and the fool chooses the folly of this world.

Jesus supplies wisdom. Jesus promises to give wisdom to those who hear and receive His words [Luke 21:15]. As we live wisely according to Proverbs, we are living like Christ.

As the one who lived wisdom, the one who is wisdom, the one who is the way of wisdom, and the one who supplies wisdom, Jesus is present in Proverbs in the most profound way. the book of Proverbs will not allow you to be a passive learner, merely soaking up information. Proverbs is the 10-Commandments in shoe leather. Proverbs requires you to put God’s wisdom to work in your life.

Adapted from A Proverbs Driven Life, by Anthony Selvaggio, Shepherd Press, 2008. 17ff

walking in wisdom

A few years ago my father picked up a new hobby—making walking sticks. Since starting Trail Tamer he has sold hundreds of sticks. Many of his sticks are a work of art in which he carves beautiful images and meaningful phrases. I own three sticks. Upon each of my sticks my father engraved verses from all over the Bible that talk about walking.

Ephesians talks a lot about walking: walking in new life [4:17-18], walking in forgiveness [4:32], walking in true love [5:2], walking in the light [5:8], and walking in wisdom [5:15]. Walking according to Paul is not about physical exercise, but about the spiritual life’s journey with Christ. Walking flexes your spiritual joints to become fit for the difficult road ahead. As you walk with Christ you become more and more like Him [cf. 4:1].

In Ephesians 5:15-21, the theme of walking continues with an encouragement to walk in wisdom. Walking in wisdom is more than knowledge of random facts about life or God. It is not about being able to win at spiritual Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. Wisdom is learning to live in a way that pleases God by putting on the character of Christ from inside out.

What does it mean to walk in wisdom? [Ephesians 5:15-17]

First, wisdom looks carefully at how you walk [v.15]. A wise person does not ask, “How far can I go before I sin?” Instead they ask, “Is this helpful for me and my walk with God?” I have freedom to do as I please, but that does not mean it is profitable for me. Paul elsewhere encourages the Corinthian church, which struggled with relationships and unwise habits, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.” [1 Corinthians 6:12]

A wise person watches they way they walk because they are saved to new life. An unwise person is not careful how they walk, therefore, they are easily influenced by poor entertainment choices [i.e. TV, movies, games, internet], by addictive consumption [i.e. alcohol, media], and by corruptive people they mingling around. Although these things are not sinful in themselves they are things that can easily lead to sin.

Second, wisdom makes the best use of your time [v.16]. A wise person is disciplined and discerning with their time. As followers of Christ you are aware that time is limited and every opportunity matters because “you are buying time.” 

People waste a lot of time on things that do not matter. When you stand before God one day will your labor in Farmville matter? Will racing your kids to sports practices and club activities matter? Will your endless hours of texting and gossiping about silliness matter? Time is but a vapor; it is here one moment, and the next “poof” it is gone. Everything you do everyday has eternal significance. Unwise people do not consider their time as God’s time.  Wise people are a steward of the life God has given you. Do not be a slave to time; let time be a slave to you. Glorify God with the time you have remaining because that is what matters.

You can commit to making a wise use of your time at any age. Before the age of 20, Jonathan Edwards committed about 70 resolutions to God. It was his desire from a young age to walk with God. One of these resolutions was, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” You are never too busy, too young or too old not to give your time to God. Imagine if God said that to you?

Third, wisdom understands what the will of God is [v.17]. Only a fool does not think about God. A fool thinks, “How much can I get away with?” This is kindergarten Christianity. A wise follower of Christ moves beyond elementary foolishness and considers God’s purposes and plans, and seeks to follow after Him in them.

What is the will of God? I often have people ask me, “Pastor, what is the will of God?” Most are shocked that as you unpack a biblical view of God’s will it is much simpler and wide-ranging than you may realize. God’s will is less about whom you will marry, what job you will have, what your future will be like, and more about the kind of person you are to become. “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” [1 Thessalonians 4:3] In other words, it is God’s will that you are growing up to be more like Christ. It really is that simple. Therefore, it is easy to know if you are out of God’s will—if you are not living like Christ.

How am I supposed to walk in wisdom? [Ephesians 5:18-21]

If you are walking in wisdom you are filled with the Spirit [vs.18]. Paul contrasts be filled with the Spirit to being drunk. Why would Paul use drunkenness in contrast with being filled with the Spirit? Paul knows that alcohol is a common substance that can control you if you have too much to drink. It is all a matter of what you allow to control you.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not the same thing as: being saved, being more saved, or having a mystical experience. The Holy Spirit is not a force or influence, He is God. Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit upon salvation and does not need more of Him after salvation [1 Corinthians 12:13]. Being filled with the Spirit is simply being under the control of the Holy Spirit. Being filled is allowing the Holy Spirit to head the command-center of your life and giving Him the ability to do with you as He pleases. You become the passenger and He becomes the pilot. If you do not submit yourself to the Holy Spirits control you are like a man wearing beer goggles driving a fully loaded box-truck down a Los Angeles interstate during rush hour.

Followers of Christ are commonly called the temple of God [cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 & 6:19-20]. In the OT the temple was the place where God dwells, and where His people offered sacrifices of worship God. However, since Christ’ death on the cross the structural temple is no longer needed because Jesus opened the access to God. Today His followers are the physical temple of God offering their lives as an offering and sacrifice to God [Romans 12:1-2].

Those who are filled with the Spirit use worshipful words [vs.19-20]. The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is letting “the Word of God dwell within you richly.” [Colossians 3:16] In other words, the words and songs that flow from your lips match the Word of God. Words not of God can “grieve the Holy Spirit” [cf. 4:30].

What brings people together more than the words of the music? Arenas are packed with people singing the anthems of their favorite bands. Churches every Sunday gather together singing songs to their great God. Music has a powerful way of communicating and teaching truth in a unique way that speech or sermons cannot.

Worshipful words include, “giving thanks for everything.” [cf. 5:4] Does giving thanks for everything include evil done towards me, personal tragedy, problems related to sin and temptations, or periods of physical and spiritual suffering? Yes. Gratitude is an attitude that gives you a godly outlook on life and the greatness of God [Colossians 3:17]. God uses evil, tragedy, sin, and suffering for His glory. I have seen numerous times how God has used my moments of failure and struggle to teach me about His presence and provisions.

Those who are filled with the Spirit also submit to one another [v.21]. Everybody submits to someone or something. Employers submit to their companies, soldiers submit to their superiors, citizens submit to their authorities, and Christians submit to God and others over them. Followers of Christ are committed to each other like living stones of the temple of God encouraging and helping one another to worship God. We live in a society that bucks against authority therefore submission is look down upon. However, submission is for our good, the good of our community and for the glory of God.

In Ephesians 5:15-21, walking in wisdom is less about knowing facts, and more about living with God and one another. Walking in wisdom walks carefully, makes a good use of time, understands the will of God, is filled with the Holy Spirit, uses worshipful words, and is submissive to other followers of Christ. Walking in wisdom will take you down a beautiful road. When the paths of hardship come, as they will, godly wisdom will be like a loyal walking stick carrying you through the tight passes, rugged terrains, and steep slopes. Walking in wisdom is not easy, but it brings God glory.