August 29, 2018

Pentecost 14 - Proverbs 2:1-9

Theme: What Makes Christian Education Work?
1. The How – receiving, calling out, & seeking
2. The Why – God stores, shields, and provides
3. The What – To know God and His Gifts

I read an article this week that revealed a shocking statistic. In a study conducted in 2016, involving 3,000 participants, the data showed that teens and young adults aged 13-24 believe not recycling (56%) is worse than viewing pornography (32%); by a gap of almost 20%. It’s an eye-opening look into our culture, especially urban areas like ours.

Now, I recognize the value of recycling as much as the most ardent environmentalist, however to compare it to matters of sexual immorality is a bit of a stretch, and not only to compare it but to make it more of a moral issue. God indeed expects us to take care of the earth but He has no direct law about recycling. Pornography on the other hand, God has a lot to say about that, or more specifically, the root of it – sinful lust. Other studies have shown that pornography has direct links to verbal and physical abuse, to objectifying women in particular, addiction, and to broken marriages and destroyed  relationships. Recycling? I suppose one who doesn’t believe in it could be a selfish slob of a person, but it hardly has the moral consequences that porn use does.

As I read that article this week I couldn’t help but see the connection with our theme of Christian education. Learning in and through God’s Word – in all subjects, really does make a difference in a person’s life. It works. We could spend plenty of time surmising the reasons why young people think not recycling is so much worse than pornography – but we really don’t have to analyze the reasons that much. We all know what that misguided thinking ultimately goes back to – the inwardly twisted human heart.

Part of the education in the Christian faith is about helping children cope and handle the sinful flesh that they have – the sinful flesh that would thrive and prosper without God’s protective efforts. But, the biggest value of Christian education goes even beyond this point. Most important is the message of salvation in Christ – most vital as well! Our text to consider from God’s Word today shows us in the ins and outs of Christian education – essentially how and why it works, and what it offers. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit would work in us a humble awe of this more treasured gift that God gives us – young and old – as we read from His Word (Proverbs 2:1-9):   

My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; 3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, 4 If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; 8 He guards the paths of justice, And preserves the way of His saints. 9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path.

Part 1 – The How of Christian Education

God must be taught to us because we all enter the world with an extremely limited understanding of who He is and what He has done. Now, that may not seem to be the case on the surface. The Bible tells us that the information that all people have about God comes in the forms of the created world and the inner mind or conscience. Those two things are spectacular resources. The world is so magnificent that entire cultures of people have devoted their worship to created things like the sun, moon, and stars. Each of us have memorable events in our lives that are connected to amazing aspects of creation; a beautiful sunset, a peaceful winter afternoon, a raging rainstorm, and even the smoky haze of forest fires. Nature is so much a part of our lives that we often remember events according to it. The human conscience is no small thing either. For as much as we know about the human mind we are still far beyond the point of fully understanding all of its abilities and intricacies. Just from those two natural evidences for God alone we can’t help but stand in wonder and awe.

Yet, God Himself tells us that those things are only the beginning of wisdom. True wisdom is found in His word. This is the wisdom of eternal life; the wisdom that helps me understand that this amazing infinite Creator God knows and loves me. That wisdom is so beyond us that God says people will reject it because it’s too hard to accept. And yet, little children, some of the youngest among us, have that wisdom and will grow in that wisdom through the Christian education of home, school, and church.

How can this be? Solomon, who by the way, knew a little bit about wisdom, tells us: Three conditional statements show us how: “If you receive…” If you cry out…” and “If you seek and search…” God is telling us that wisdom comes to us by receiving, calling out, and seeking. But there’s more going on here than God just telling us to do these things. Typically, when we hear a conditional statement that begins with “if” such as we have here in our text, we think that some type of barter is being made. Our mind tells us, “If you do this, then you’ll get this,” and so the impetus really gets directed at the self.

But, this is not what God is telling us. He doesn’t want us to focus on ourselves. The Hebrew idea of “if” can also be understood as “when.” God simply tells us, when these things happen – you will have understanding. This is not some bargaining chip from God that should keep us guessing. He wants you to have confidence is His promises. When you receive with your ears, when you call out with your voice, and when you seek His will – you will be blessed with wisdom.

The Why of Christian Education   

God’s handiwork further comes light when we consider why Christian education works this way. Solomon gives that answer in verses 6-8. The LORD gives wisdom – it’s His free gift, by storing up, by shielding, and by protecting. Each of these points are not only things done by God, but they are defensive things. This emphasis on protection is another reminder of how fragile wisdom is in a sinful world. There are many threats from without, but the greatest danger is in our your own heart. Satan advertises a false wisdom. It makes you feel better about yourself. It lets you off the hook from following God and listening to His Word. It makes you popular and attached to this temporary world, instead of seeking those things which are above. The danger is disguised in an attractive form, and that’s why God is so protective of this treasure, and of you. Our text tells us that He watches over both wisdom, storing it away for us, and He watches of you, shielding you from these seemingly harmless dangers.

We have confidence that when we receive, call out, and seek – God will be there to respond. Our confidence is because of what He does, long before our efforts begin. This is profound wisdom. God ordained it so long before the world existed. This wisdom is an extension of His very nature. And that’s why it only comes through His Word. Reading, memorizing, studying, and understanding Scripture is profitable for our lives not because it is ancient wisdom of the world. It’s God’s wisdom. It’s a direct link to His mind, if we could even image Him having such a thing. It is other-worldly wisdom. It existed before the creation, before the conscience, and certainly before you and me.
And so, verse one says, “Receive my words, and treasure my commands.” Solomon is speaking, yes, but he’s directing the hearer to God’s Word, just as any faithful preacher is merely a vessel. 

The What of Christian Education

We’ve talked about how we get wisdom from God. We talked about why it works the way God says it does. But what do we get from Christian education? The world offers mixed answers here. Some say we get nothing. To them education from God’s Word is actually an ailment, like mental limp on your brain. Skeptics and the uniformed boast that Christians are na├»ve. They often don’t mind when children believe in Christ, because, well, they’re children. But, some are so opposed they call Biblical education child abuse.

Most people probably walk in the middle ground. In fact, that’s probably where the majority of Christians are. They make the case that what is most valuable about Christian education is the quality. Not necessarily quality in the Christian sense, but in the education sense. For them, Christian education offers valuable life lessons, it teaches a consistent brand of morality, fairness, and doing good for others; and on the school level it provides a better quality education than public schools. These things might all be true, but they are an illusion if we think they are what God is intent on giving through education in His Word.

Solomon tells the what of Christian education in the last verse of our text. It isn’t lengthy, but it’s packed with meaning and importance. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path. Here’s another example of just how relevant the Old Testament is today. Righteousness, justice, equity, every good path – these are the pillars of wisdom! They are also the very virtues that our 21st century America is seeking. Enter any educational institution, attend a class, listen to podcast on societal need, and you will hear the themes of righteousness, justice, equity, and goodness. We are certainly in need of these virtues and we are on the lookout for them.

But, their achievement is not isolated from God’s plan and promise. In Solomon’s explanation, these gifts come at the end. When you hear, cry out, and seek – then you will understand God. And as God stores up, shields, and protects – then you will understand His gifts. That sequence is there for a reason. Most of the world is caught on the first step. They want wisdom. They seek it. They call for it. They listen to many opinions about it. But, they never find true, Godly wisdom because they sever the pursuit from the power.

The wisdom of God’s nature is found in Jesus. When we look in His Word. When we seek through His Word. When we hear His Word – we understand Him. When we understand Him, we see more clearly what He does for us and what He freely grants us by faith – righteousness, justice, equity, and every good path. Christian education is not about getting degrees, or perfect grade point averages, or attaining the top spot in the class. It’s about the greatest blessings that God offers us in His mercy and grace. It’s about the comfort of understanding our spotless nature of righteousness through Jesus. It’s about trusting God will right our wrongs and defend our beliefs, even when everything in the world rages beyond our control. It’s about learning to treat others in the way that Christ would treat them – as Christ has treated us. Seeing one another in God’s own image. And it’s about not having to lean on our own thoughts and opinions to determine what is good – but receiving a wisdom that transcends, that looks above normal to see God.

What’s worse, not recycling or pornography?

It’s pretty astounding how far humans can stray from these gifts when they forgot the path of Christian education. God grant us ears to hear, tongues to call, and hearts to seek His wisdom in Christ. Amen. 

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