February 24

“If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast in men.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-21)

For some reason, when I start a trip, which usually involves flying, I do foolish things and then wonder why. It may be due to staying up late the night before to pack and prepare for traveling. A few days ago I sat in the wrong seat on the plane even after identifying my assigned seat as I waited in line. I didn’t realize my mistake until the man whose seat I was in asked an agent about the “problem.” As I moved, I said, out loud, “I’m the problem.” All my devotions came thundering back to me, in this illustration of the severe limitations of human reasoning, or making the mistake of being overly-confident, because we assume we are fine. Oh, and let us not miss the application that I wasn’t fine, the gentleman wasn’t fine, and the people who were standing in line behind him also weren’t fine. The way we think and behave affects others, all the time.

Paul recommends becoming foolish in worldly “intelligence” to be spiritually wise. We are to put our confidence in God’s heavenly wisdom rather than depend upon simple self-confidence. John Gill offers ways to avoid futile foolishness and become wise based on our passage today from 1 Corinthians. We must know ourselves, and this knowledge should lead us to be convinced of our folly. To become wise, we must embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is foolishness to the world, submit to his ordinances, take up our cross to follow him, bearing the world’s reproach, and deny worldly wisdom. Pastor Gill goes on to say, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God-it is despised and neglected by him; he makes it foolish, destroys it, and brings it to nothing; he lays it aside as useless.” *

I have flown so many times to so many different airports that I was over-confident when doing something so mundane as sitting in my assigned seat. How often do we think ourselves smart, when this keeps us from recognizing our folly and senselessness? Solomon declared, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:10)

What “wisdom” of this world is the foolishness that is getting in your way of being truly wise?  When are you over-confident, assuming that you are just fine? “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)

*Gill, John, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, online at: https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/

February 23

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matthew 7:24, 26)

Research indicates that most adults hear between twenty and thirty thousand (20,000-30,000) words every day. This includes TV, radio, and streaming sources, as well as those spoken in conversation and meetings. But studies show that we only retain fifteen to twenty-five percent (15-25%) of what we hear. (1) It’s probably impossible to know how often we put into practice what we have heard, but the percentage is probably low. Of course, there is the possibility that we don’t have to remember what we have heard to consciously act on it, which brings us to the need for wisdom.

We teach our children Jesus’s parable of building on the sand and the rock, and we sing the song about the foolish man and the wise man. But do we take this parable seriously enough for our own spiritual growth? Are we building on the rock, Jesus Christ, or the sand, which is the world? In his commentary on this parable, James Boice wrote, “There are really only two mistakes that a person can make in regard to Christ’s teaching. First: I need no foundation at all; I’ll just drift. Second: to build wrongly upon the foundation.” (2) Both are declared foolish by Jesus, who implied that building is necessary. There is no one in the parable who is not building something. No matter what we think, we are always working out our beliefs and values in our actions, which is either sand (the world’s values) or a rock (God’s Word). Fools are building, acting, deciding, doing, and choosing that which will give way in every storm or trial (James 1:6). Wise believers will continually do that which is by faith in Christ and Scripture and will remain steady, able to bear up to the difficulties and crises of life.

We study God’s Word, but do we build on it? We read and write devotions such as this but do we do anything with the words here? I have journaled for myself for several decades, but I have experienced a new benefit from writing devotions so frequently–I am compelled to live out what I have declared in public on this blog.  I also have an accountability group and my church family, who are committed to helping me with my building.

We all require accountability for putting the Word of God into practice. Who helps you as you build? Will you ask God to give you friends who will encourage and strengthen your wisdom to build on Christ, rather than drift and foolishly hope storms won’t come?

(1) https://www.creditdonkey.com/listening-statistics.html

(2) James Montgomery Boice, “Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 7”, Software Version, Baker Books, 1998

February 22

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)

It’s the Winter Olympics in South Korea; the bobsled competitions were televised today. I watched as each team of two men took a running start and jumped into their sled. I learned that the pilot in the front steers the vehicle, and the brakeman’s only job is to stay small and low and put on the brakes when they cross the finish line. However, the strength of the men together is crucial to push the sled off to a fast start. One other factor must be taken into consideration, although I didn’t see or hear it mentioned in my casual research–the men must be so united that they act like one, keeping the sled balanced after their joint push off the starting line.

James begins his letter with a strong indicative about the way God uses trials to bring us to maturity, complete, perfect, and lacking nothing. He follows this truth with an imperative: ask for wisdom when you need it, through faithful prayer. Just like the bobsled team that must act as one, our hearts and minds must be united in the truth that God wants to gift us generously, without hesitation or judgment, making his wisdom available to us. In his commentary on James 1:1-11 Matthew Henry wrote, “A mind that has single and prevailing regard to its spiritual and eternal interest, and that keeps steady in its purposes for God, will grow wise by afflictions, will continue fervent in devotion, and rise above trials and oppositions. When our faith and spirits rise and fall with second causes, there will be unsteadiness in our words and actions.”

It is foolish to think that God does not consider our hearts’ desires or our motivations when we pray. He who is omniscient is also jealous for our undivided love (Ezekiel 39:25; Matthew 23:37). Those who doubt Christ’s grace, mercy, love, promises, or faithfulness will not receive anything, because of their inability or unwillingness to live by faith and not by sight. Faith is being certain of God’s promises though invisible (Hebrews 11:1). God is dishonored and discredited by those believers who doubt him, who have been given the light of the gospel.

Where are you on the scale of faithful stability? Are you like a bobsled rocking and shaking because of doubts? Or, are you steadily racing toward the goal, confident in the Christ, the one who is moving your sled?

February 21

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalm 51:3-6)

Have you heard the idiom, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client”? It’s one of my favorites idioms about fools because it speaks to our ridiculousness as arrogant creatures. A similar one that I heard recently in a sermon is, “If you find a good church, don’t join it because you will ruin it.” Then there is this one: “There’s no fool like an old fool.” Surely, after having lived a certain number of years one would have at least a little wisdom, not so? But the one who doesn’t is even more foolish than a young person who can at least plead naivety. These old expressions aren’t heard much among millennials or any other younger folks. That’s too bad since there is a great deal of truth in them.

However, those old sayings barely scratch the surface of what it means to be foolish according to the Bible. If you would like to make a personal study of foolishness, I recommend Romans Chapter 1-3. God is relentless against sin and fools who think they are safe when they are not and refuse to acknowledge their sin and repent. “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5).

But, you say to yourself, I am in Christ and therefore safe! It is better to say to yourself, read Psalm 51, you fool! David understood the demands of a holy God who expects his people to be wise. He knew that as long as he had unconfessed sin, for which he had not repented, his relationship with God would suffer. As soon as David confessed, he sincerely repented. And as soon as he repented, he was forgiven. As a forgiven sinner, David knew that God took great pleasure when he hid the Lord’s truth in his heart. Then, and only then, could he honestly request more wisdom in the secret place from which his thoughts originated.

How is your heart today, foolish or contritely wise?

February 20

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26:12)

Have you seen the movie “Akeelah and the Bee?” It’s about a smart high-school girl from a low-income family who enters her school spelling bee and wins.  Dr. Larabee, a former professor, and speller himself challenges Akeelah to continue competing. However, he is dealing with some personal issues by being tough on Akeelah and dismisses her from his coaching for her insolence. At this point, she calls him dictatorial, truculent, and supercilious. Akeelah is accusing Dr. Larabee of being tyrannical, inflexible, hostile, argumentative, arrogant, and condescending. Her apology for being “so insolent” is meant to be ironic, not disrespectful. * It turns out though, they have both been wise in their own eyes, and disrespectful toward each other. According to the Bible, there is more hope for fools than for these two self-righteous characters.

We may not all be dictatorial, but we are frequently self-righteous, certain that our opinions are the only correct ones in politics, social issues, relational challenges, and biblical insights. Our views are often not based on being educated and well-informed or having applicable experience. Instead, they are founded on reactionary thinking and convenient philosophies. There is more hope for a fool than for us when our self-convincing stances trap us.

A fool, according to Proverbs, is one who does fear God or trust in him. This is the worst possible status, according to the Bible, since without God there is no hope for any significance in this life or life continuing after death. And yet our verse above states that there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is self-righteous. A fool can be saved. On the other hand, a professing Christian who isn’t regenerated but believes she has been justified in Christ may never be willing to hear the gospel with the humility for salvation.

Proverbs 12:15 states, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Do you accept this wisdom? Will you request and then listen with humility to the advice of godly teachers, mentors, elders, friends, and family members?

* You can view this scene at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdDUhHl-BzM

February 19

“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:7)

“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)

I was born with a rare congenital disease called PCD that was virtually impossible to diagnose when I was younger. The allergist who diagnosed me admitted that he had to look over his medical textbooks for the crude test that was used (in 1985) to diagnose the disorder. When I moved to Kenya, I began to experience the respiratory issues so prevalent with PCD and spent much of my first two years there working with one doctor in particular. He was completely unfamiliar with my disorder but was willing to read the fifty pages of information I had collected from my research on NIH computers in Washington, D.C. The humility and lack of self-righteousness in these two physicians made a tremendous impression on me since most I had sought were unwilling to consider that they lacked the information necessary to treat my illnesses correctly.

Proverbs 3:7 mentions three characteristics of the wise: they are not self-righteous, superior, or inflated; have holy reverence and respect for God; and they turn away from evil. Unfortunately, because of our self-righteousness, we think we can love the Lord and shun evil by the strength of our convictions. However, as Jesus said, “The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). In Proverbs 16, we find some help, learning that it is by steadfast love, faithfulness, and the fear of the Lord that we can turn our backs on evil. But we are not able to be continuously loving and faithful, let alone fear the Lord as we should. Only Jesus Christ has these qualities and can atone for our sin, giving us the opportunity to confess evil and repent. The good we do we accomplish only by the grace of God.

This week we will begin to look at biblical foolishness, which is turning away from God toward sin-the opposite of wisdom that looks toward God with affection. Let’s consider and attend to the direction of our looking-is it at God or not? The more we focus on the Lord, the closer we are to Christ, and the easier it is to turn away from evil. “For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar” (Psalm 138:6).

February 18

“We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)

Do you know with certainty that you will hear about the power and wisdom of God in Christ at church today? In other words, will you hear the gospel taught and proclaimed in the Word, hymns, confession and assurance, and in communion? I will, and it comforts me to know that I will not hear about human wisdom and philosophies or emotional solutions to spiritual problems.

In Paul’s day, most Gentiles wanted to hear about widespread Greek philosophies and Jews stumbled over the gospel. Today Jewish and non-Jewish unbelievers gravitate toward politics, new age philosophies, economic interventions, and Eastern religious beliefs for solutions to our problems. Most non-Christians believe that people are basically good but do some bad things, even horrific destructive evil because of something flawed in their make-up or upbringing. It is not unusual to hear that believing in Jesus Christ is a crutch for the weak or comfort for the kind-hearted. In other words, preaching Christ crucified for sinners is folly to many.

The church should be a place where every believer is assured of hearing Christ preached boldly, without fear, shame, or hesitation. The world thinks it’s foolish to worship a convicted criminal, executed for teaching and healing people of their sins and demon possession. We who are in Christ should revel in the knowledge that he was willing to preach, heal, live, die, and be raised for our undeserved salvation and his own glory. Church should be not only a refuge but a place where we bring our neighbors, Jewish and Gentile, to hear the most excellent news shared clearly and courageously.

Christ came to turn the world upside-down, interrupting mundane lives with his gracious offer of forgiveness. How will you share your church’s ministry tomorrow? Will you encourage your pastor, reverend, and elders to teach and preach boldly and passionately?

February 17

“My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries.” (Proverbs 8:19-21)

Have you received an inheritance of fine jewelry from a parent or a grandparent? Will you be leaving some of your most valuable jewels or other keepsakes to your children? I had a conversation yesterday with a friend about precious photographs that we have seen in antique stores, obviously not valued much by the families who gave them away. For my part, I am grateful to have a some very old family photos and seek to know now who all the people in the pictures are, and how we are related.

Wisdom promises us an inheritance that is of higher value than anything material we could receive from a family member. But only those who love wisdom will receive “her” gifts-only those who enjoy wisdom’s righteousness and justice are granted this birthright. Those who love Christ and live by his grace are conformed to his character and have the opportunity to walk in wisdom’s path. This is not an easy calling, but one that requires God’s perfect righteousness and justice, which never lapses. Wisdom is given by God, not bought but granted by his undeserved grace with mercy. Just so, the results of Christ’s righteousness and justice, the greatest wisdom possible, is the fruit that fills the treasuries of believers, who are given this unearned inheritance. As John Gills writes in his commentary, “This [fruit] is enjoyed by way of inheritance; it is not purchased, nor acquired, but bequeathed and given to the children of God by their heavenly Father, and comes to them through the death of Christ, the testator, and is forever…Christ now fills their understandings with spiritual knowledge, their souls with grace, their minds with peace and joy, and their hearts with food and gladness; and hereafter he will fill them to full satisfaction with knowledge, holiness, and joy, and will be all in all to them.”

Considering that we, who desire to be wise, are promised this great treasure, by our God who is utterly faithful, why would we instead want the cheap, empty things of the world? We are promised an incorruptible, eternal inheritance—a relationship with Christ. Why not live wisely as those who are secure in him? “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

February 16

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers…So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:2-6, 12)

One of the benefits of writing a devotional blog is the opportunity to consider current events. I was planning to write about the inheritance of the wise today, and my meditations led me to this Psalm 90:12, which naturally led me to think about and grieve over the recent deaths of the students and teachers at the school in Parkland, Florida. James Boice wrote in his commentary: “Psalm 90 is a reflection on human mortality and the brevity of life, plus quiet confidence in God who is the steadfast hope of the righteous. This psalm is probably the greatest passage in the Bible contrasting the grandeur of God with man’s frailty.” Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” is frequently sung at funerals and is based on Psalm 90. It was probably written by Moses who had experienced the deaths of his siblings, Miriam and Aaron, with whom he ministered for much of his adult life.

The psalm begins with a statement of God’s grandeur on verses 1-2. Moses then turns our attention to man’s frailty and brief life in contrast to God’s eternality. God is infinite in every way, including his physical existence. Man is physically mortal without Christ, and even with him, we humans have a limited life-span on earth before Jesus returns, and with him, we are raised. Sudden death is especially horrifying, for believers and unbelievers. It rips away those we love from our presence, without warning and often violently. Our knowledge that death is the result of sin in the world makes us even more righteously indignant at the destruction of victims who died too young, too fast, and too cruelly.

So, what are we to do?  As we grieve, which is right, we also ask God to “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Lord, help us to accept the brevity of life here and the importance of living in Christ, for Christ, and through Christ, sharing his gospel with those who are in our paths. Take us to those who are unprepared for death to know that you are “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

February 15

“A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might. (Proverbs 24:5)

Classical instructors sometimes teach primary theories, principles, or units in a cycle where the academic content is more specialized each time it is learned. A student in sixth-grade math may have three units on word problems during the year, to revise and reinforce their skills with some advanced material added each time. This devotional study of Proverbs is similar in that some ideas will be repeated, for the sake of review and reinforcement, each with a slightly different twist. Ecclesiastes 9:14-15, about an unnamed, poor wise man who saved his little city was the leading verse on February 1st. Today we are again considering wisdom-a superior form of strength.

We are “full of strength” if we are wise. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalms 73:26). Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary on this psalm: “The spirit is strengthened for the spiritual work and the spiritual warfare, by true wisdom.” John Gills commented on Proverbs 24:5, ” A spiritual man, a man endued with spiritual knowledge, with the knowledge of Christ, and salvation by him…he grows stronger and stronger, he goes from strength to strength; the more he knows of Christ, the more strongly he trusts in him and loves him, and the more able he is to resist Satan’s temptations; and is a better match for false teachers who deceive the hearts of the simple.” Both theologians identify wisdom from God as that which strengthens our hearts. Gills is very specific, pointing out that faith in Christ is the particular wisdom that strengthens our hearts and souls.

Whenever I seem to be at my weakest as a teacher, writer, or minister, my work seems to be strongest. We are reminded of God’s admonition for Paul, after his request for healing was denied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). God’s grace in Jesus Christ is heart-power, soul-muscle, and faith-potency. What is Paul’s conclusion to his dilemma of being so weak in his flesh? “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10) Will anyone argue that Paul was not exceedingly wise?

If you want to have the wisdom of Paul, will you have the courage to be weak, letting God’s power come to the forefront, accomplishing his purposes by his strength?