‘‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…. ” Ps. 111:10
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That is a text most of us have learned and repeated ever since we were “knee-high to a grasshopper.’’ We’ve heard it at home, we’ve learned it in Sunday School and grade school, we’ve listened to our minister preach a sermon or two on it, maybe even written it on a 3 x 5 card and tacked it up by our desk. It is such a popular text that it has almost become a trite motto or slogan. It was for me, anyway, until I dug into it a little farther to discover how this text applies to me as a present college student, and how it applies to each of you readers. (I imagine the majority of you are presently students, also.)
I ask that you read Psalm 111. In this Psalm the psalmist speaks of our God in all His wonderful works. Then he ends his psalm with the very beautiful text that we have as our theme today.
The fear of the Lord. Fear. Is this fright? Is it cowardice? Is it alarm or panic? Of course not! In fact, it is quite the opposite! Fearing the Lord is piety; it’s reverence; it’s humble submission. Refer to what you just read in Psalm 111: “The works of the Lord are great;’’ “His righteousness endures forever;” “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion;” “holy and reverend is His Name;” and so on. This whole psalm is intended to excite us to the work of praising and glorifying God. But fearing God is more than just praising God with our mouth. We have to praise God with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength! It is more than pious living: it is doing His commandments – it is doing that which leads us to eternal happiness – it is godly living. And it is this fearing the Lord – this godly living – that is the beginning of wisdom. Unless we begin here, we will never attain it.
Now, before we go any farther, let’s distinguish wisdom from knowledge. They have very similar meanings. In fact, the two are inseparable. But there is a difference. Knowledge is the foundation; wisdom is the building on that foundation. Knowledge is the facts, the truth, and the accurate and dependable information. Wisdom is that truth in action.
Knowledge means rejecting our own understanding and instead trusting in the Lord – for our ways are not His ways. The key to this channel of knowledge is instruction – in the home, in the church, and in the school. The knowledge that is above all things precious is the knowledge of God Himself. The knowledge of God is the most important knowledge we can attain. Why? Because the knowledge of God is absolutely necessary for our salvation – it is a saving knowledge. It is a matter of spiritual life and death. Do you see? We must know God because only in His Son do we have eternal life. And, too, salvation is the very highest good; it is covenant fellowship and friendship with our ever-blessed God. How can we be friends with, and have fellowship with, and commune with somebody who we do not even know?
This in itself should be an incentive to study and learn. Our attitude must be one of the desire to know. Knowledge received demands diligence. We are to do as Proverbs 2 says, “cry after knowledge; lift up our voices for understanding.” We are to seek it like we would seek silver and gold or a hidden treasure. Then we will understand the fear of the Lord and will find the knowledge of God.
He who rejects this knowledge or does not even seek it, is a fool. (Prov. 1:7) “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) To remove God is to remove knowledge because He is not only the source of knowledge, He is knowledge. No matter how many degrees we have behind our name, nor how many books we have in our library, nor what position we hold, without God, we are without knowledge.
Now that we understand the foundation, let’s build the building. In the Bible, a person who could perform well in his particular area of skills was wise. For example, in Exodus 35:30-35 we read of Moses who chose wise men to build the tabernacle. “The Lord called them by name . . . and filled them with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge.”
With this wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, they did the work of the Lord. They put their knowledge into action and did God’s will. These men were wise – they knew the end that had to be reached and understood the means to achieve that end.
That is exactly what we are to do, too – no matter what our position or calling is in life. We are to know the end: everlasting happiness, eternal life, God’s glory; and understand the means to that end: fearing the Lord and living a holy and godly life. (See also James 3:17.) We are to remember God’s works and diligently study them. Read Psalm 111 again. The psalm speaks of God’s wonderful works and ends with the command to fear this Almighty and All-wise God in order to get wisdom. Yes, we are to seek the Lord first and then all things will be added unto us.
And, yes, this is a command! Trust in the Lord. Fear the Lord. It is not a matter of choice! You see, it is part of our striving to be perfect as God is perfect and holy as God is holy. It is putting off the old man of sin and putting on the new man of righteousness. It is part of the antithesis. It is saying “no” when God says “no” and saying “yes” when God says “yes.” It is pan of our walking as a pilgrim in a strange land; walking as a light in the midst of a dark place.
Wisdom is the principle thing. It is so important that we as God’s people need to place a priority on it. Especially as students, we are learning so much and gaining so much knowledge – what a responsibility we have when God says, “Fear me!”
Humanly, it is almost frustrating, isn’t it? Maybe even a little depressing. We say, ‘‘How can I do this? God is the Creator – but, I’m only a creature. God is perfect but, even my most perfect work is filthy and polluted with sin!”
But, you see, that’s where our comfort comes in. We are to ask for wisdom and God gives it – generously and liberally. (James 1:5) Choosing wisdom over wealth brings a reward of blessedness and happiness; eternal happiness! Few of us can afford gold and silver and rubies; but wisdom is far more precious because the rewards are far greater than precious jewels!
I do not write these things because I think I do all things right, and I feel you should follow my example. Oh, no! That is not the way it is at all. You all know the old saying, ‘‘If the shoe fits, put it on.” Well, let me tell you, this shoe is just my size – it fits perfectly. And I have to put it on and wear it every day of all the years of my life. And you must, too. We are to walk on that straight and narrow path which leads to that eternal happiness.
And that takes wisdom! In and of ourselves we cannot get wisdom. But fearing the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – and it is the middle and the end, too.
Seek that wisdom. Pray for that wisdom – pray without ceasing. He that asketh in prayer, believing, shall receive it. (Matt. 21:22)
Almighty God, give us the grace to fear Thee, to obey Thy commands, and to praise Thee forever and ever.
During the month of December, our family received many Christmas cards bearing merry greetings, glad tidings, and blessed wishes. I noticed that many of the captions in the cards spoke of one topic:
“Wishing you JOY of the Christmas season.”
“May the JOYS of the season be yours all year through.”
“We pray unmeasured JOY be yours in the coming year.”
What is JOY?
The World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary states that it is “a strong feeling of pleasure; gladness; happiness.” I can remember a Christmas bulletin board theme depicting JOY when I was in grade school: J – Jesus first; O – Others next; Y – Yourself last.
“What, then, (we must ask ourselves personally) as a child of God makes me truly glad and happy; that is, truly JOYFUL?” One can only, confess that putting Jesus first in our lives and that alone gives us true ‘ joy, isn’t that right? Joy comes at Christmas (Christmas is Jesus and Jesus is our joy), but Christmas is not only December 25 but all year through! Therefore, it is appropriate that we speak of joy, even after the Christmas holidays are over and we are well into another new year.
It is this confession, “our joy is in Jesus first” that I’d like to deal with.
First, joy comes through tribulation as sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? We cry, “Tribulation brings sorrow to my heart and grief to my soul-not joy!” Often there are trying moments as parents rear their children. It is so difficult to say “no” when their children and their friends say “yes”. They must say “no” to the attendance of plays, drama, and T.V. programs; say “no” to Sunday afternoon outings and pleasures; say “no” when their teenagers date unbelievers; to name just a few. To say “no” when their children say “yes” creates a division in the home; it makes “war in the camp”. I heard one of our minister’s sermons from a Christmas series about a month or so ago. He said if parents do not correct and reprimand their children, they are not bringing Christmas to them. Christmas is Jesus and Jesus is our only salvation from our sins. We, too, as young people struggle as we are called to walk in this world as a light in the midst of a dark place. The temptations and pleasures of the world encircle us every hour of the day. There is a theater in most every town; that old idiot box, the T.V.; the amusement centers and dance halls; the easy possession of alcohol and drugs; the sports craze; the popularity contests; the new “Bibles” which so easily replace our favorite King James Version (how slyly that old Devil rids the truth!); and all the other treasures and pleasures of this world.
And, whether we be young or old, the Word of God commands us all to constantly put off that old man of sin and put on the new man of righteousness. We are called to live in this world (not to synthesize with it), but to live apart from it. We are to live antithetically; that is, to say “yes” when God says “yes” and to say “no” when God says “no”. Doesn’t it seem to you, too, that the harder we try to put Jesus and the treasures of HIS kingdom first, the harder Satan tries to lead us on his wide and crooked road? When we do stray from that straight and narrow road which leads to heaven, we cry with the apostle Paul, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not that I do. 0 wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7: 19 & 24)
Tribulation brings joy? Yes! The same Word of God which speaks of our tribulation also brings us our comfort and joy. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 instructs s that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting”; that “sorrow is better than laughter (for by sadness the heart is made better). We must count it all joy when men shall revile and persecute us and say all manner of evil against us falsely for Christ’s sake, for great is our reward in heaven. (Matthew 5: 11 -12)
Now, positively and on the other hand, the knowledge of our salvation through Jesus also brings us joy. We sing, “Joy to the world, THE LORD IS COME!” and “Joy to the earth, THE SAVIOR REIGNS!” The birth and reign of the divine and only Son of God is our salvation. Christ, being divine, took on a human nature that we might be saved. Man sinned, man had to be punished. But no man could bear the horrible wrath of God! Only someone, being very God and yet very man, could bring salvation to His people through His own suffering and death. Through Him, even though our sins are as scarlet, we are made as white as snow. Someday we will inherit those mansions which Christ has prepared for us. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and JOY in the Holy Ghost.” What joy! And what a comfort! Even in tribulation we know that when we put Jesus first, there is joy. (Isn’t it true that J-O-Y cannot be spelled unless JESUS is put first?) The joy of the Lord is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10) We can do all things in Christ who strengtheneth us. For with God, all things are possible. “My soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in His salvation.” (Psalm 35:9)
May we be blessed with the grace to put Jesus first in everything, whether in time of tribulation or prosperity. Then real JOY will be ours this entire New Year.
“Hi! Whatcha doing tonight?”
“I don’t know. ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ is showing at the theater. I heard that’s pretty good.”
“Oh, yeah? We could do that—there’s nothing else to do.”
“How about you? What are you doing tonight?”
“Oh, my folks said I have to go to this dumb church-doing. I don’t know, some kind of installation service or something. Ugh.”
“And, you. What did you say you were going to do tonight?”
“We were thinking about going to the Disco.”
“The Disco, you know. They’ve got a really decent dance floor and—you should go there once. It’s pretty neat.”
“Hm-m-m. I’ll have to go there sometime.”
Hey! Wait a minute. Open your Bible to Proverbs 15:3 where it says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the good and the evil.” I came across this text one time when I was reading the Bible before I went to bed. You know, it really struck me. It’s nice and easy to think that God sees all our good little deeds. We kind of tingle inside with self-pride and esteem because we did “another good thing”. Nobody likes to think and admit that God sees all our bad things, too.
Like, how often don’t we wake up on Sunday morning, turn up our noses, roll over, and go back to sleep. It’s that boring day of the week again. We brag that we went to church twice, maybe even three times. We complain that the minister preaches too long. But, really, we don’t complain when we have to sit three hours at a basketball game or at the races. Why is it that we complain when we have to sit in church a little over an hour? Look at the Psalmist David. He says in Psalm 122:1—“I was glad when they said, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” He was glad, he was happy, he rejoiced! He was eager to go to the house of the Lord. He loved the Lord—he wanted to praise Him, glorify Him, show his gratitude to Him. And, like us, he had been through another week of trials, temptations, hardships, and regular daily activities and routines. God had been with him the past week, and now at the beginning of a new week, he was again going to ask God to continue to bless him, give him the courage and the faith to fight each battle and fight Satan and his temptations. He cries, “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul, O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.” And again he cries, “great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” Look what God has done for us. He sent His only Son Who was born in a lowly stable, suffered His whole life, was rejected, mocked, spit upon, had to carry His own cross, and was crucified on that accursed tree, descended into hell for three long and dark hours—willingly. He knew no sin. That’s why He had a human nature. Man sinned, man had to be punished. But He also had a divine nature. God’s wrath was so terrible that only Someone Who was truly God could bear that wrath. Really, then, how dare we complain? Instead, we must rejoice with David when we have the privilege to go to the house of the Lord. After all, the minister isn’t just another man standing up there, saying what he pleases. That is God speaking through that man, revealing Himself unto us. And that knowledge we obtain is a saving knowledge. One that is necessary to possess and enjoy the fellowship with the ever blessed God.
Another thing that I would like to touch on is living in this world. It says in the Bible that everybody will be judged according to his own works. If you think about this, this is really serious. Think of all the things that go on in our minds—evil lusts and desires, judging others, taking God’s name in vain without verbally saying it, and the list goes on. Think of all the things that we say—our jokes, talking back to our parents and teachers, swearing and cursing, gossip…. Jesus says in Matthew 12:36, “That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” We say a lot of idle words, don’t we? And our actions—even little things like how we spend every little penny, we have to give account for that, too. Here’s a big one—we read the books and magazines of the world, watch their filthy T.V. shows and movies, listen to and sing along with their songs—and think nothing of it. Most likely when we get home from school, work, or whatever it is, we go right to the radio and turn it to our favorite station. Then a song that we especially like will come on, “Oh, my favorite song! I just love it.” And we run to it and turn it up and just sit back in a daze and listen to it, or even sing along. We frown when it’s over. What we’re really saying, then, is that we love them—the world—their sinful lusts and desires, their mocking and cursing the name of the Lord, their filthy jokes, or whatever. But if the Almighty God were standing here, would we dare say, “I love that song. I love that show”? No, we wouldn’t dare because then what we’re saying is that we love the world, the things of this world. And that we hate God—the all-powerful God, Who created this whole vast universe, and upholds it, and preserves it. So great a God and we dare to say, “I hate You”? You might say, “But I didn’t say that—I didn’t say that at all.” Proverbs 24:1 says, “Be thou not envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.” And again in James 4:4—‘‘Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Enemies hate! So if we are lovers of the world, then we are enemies of God—we hate God. But, instead, we are commanded to seek those things which are above where neither moth or rust corrupt nor where thieves break through and steal.
How many of you have thought about the end of the world? I mean, really thought about it. Humanly speaking, it’s scary. Did you know that there is going to be a time when if we don’t have the mark of the beast, we won’t be able to buy or sell? It says this in Revelation 13:16-17. If we can’t buy nor sell, we won’t live long. Or there might come the time when the rulers of our land will say, “You bow down to this god or we’ll take your life.” The true child of God won’t bow down. He will profess along with Paul in the beautiful passage of Romans 8:35ff, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And the sad thing is that I can say, “We must do this,” and “We mustn’t do that”; and we think, “I know I’m not supposed to be doing this,” but we do it anyhow! You see, just because I’m pointing out a few of these things doesn’t mean that I think I am better than you. I’m not. You’ve all heard the old saying, ‘‘If the shoe fits, put it on.” Well, let me tell you, this shoe fits perfectly—it’s just my size. But, instead, I’m speaking to you out of love and concern for you and of the love of God. That’s the only way I can speak to you. You and I both are in duty bound to heap coals of fire upon those who are living in sin. If we know they are committing a certain sin, just say stealing, we must show them they’re wrong and also show them the right way—not because we never steal or because we think we’re better, but because we love them and God. And God will reward us for this. Probably this person will hate us, literally despise us, but that’s what is called ‘‘suffering for Christ’s sake”. We’ll probably be mocked, laughed at, scorned, be called a “goody-goody”. But if we heaped coals upon his head out of the right motive—out of love for him and for God—then we can have the assurance that someday the Lord will reward us. There will be different degrees of blessings in heaven. The more we are persecuted and suffer for Christ’s sake, the greater the degree of blessing will be. Remember the old familiar text in Matthew 5:10-12: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Now, you may be thinking that I’ve been pretty negative about the whole thing. Well, in the human sense of the word, I have. But, like I’ve said before, the life of the child of God isn’t easy. It never has. Look at Moses. Hebrews 11:24-27 tells us, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” He didn’t want to be famous—to be known and have an earthly name. “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Look at all that he went through—pleading with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, the plagues, crossing the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his horsemen close behind, the murmuring and rebellion of the Israelites, seeing the children of Israel and Aaron dancing around the golden calf, the wars and battles, and you know the rest. He chose these tremendous trials and sufferings rather than the pleasures of Egypt for a short time. Why? Because he “esteemed the reproach of Christ”—or the suffering for Christ’s name—“to be greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. For he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” Or, in other words, he realized that suffering affliction along with the people of God would have a much greater and eternal reward that the insignificant and temporal rewards which Egypt had to offer. Just think of that promised land… Read Revelation 21:1-4. A new heaven and a new earth. No more tears, death, sorrow, crying pain—for these are passed away. Also read Revelation 22:1-5. “And they shall reign forever.”
What a blessed assurance! And what an incentive to continue as pilgrims in a strange land, as Moses did.
“How long halt ye between two opinions?”
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” I say, therefore, “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only….” James 1:23.
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