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?

February 14

“The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18)

Do you have a list or schedule of things to do today? I counted seven significant things on my calendar, including one meeting, one lunch appointment, and various other time-consuming tasks. While you and I may need to finish our tasks for today, it should be a priority to do them all with “wisdom from above.” James lists eight characteristics of godly wisdom in verse 17, available to us with the asking.

Only true wisdom from God can be pure, since he alone is without impurities and disorder, as described in verses 14-16. This is a vital reminder that the wisdom we seek is not our own, does not come from inside of us, and cannot be produced by the right attitude, no matter how hard we try. The only way to acquire God’s pure wisdom is to receive it by his grace through our union with Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24).

The next three qualities of godly wisdom mentioned by James logically follow from submission to God: peacefulness, gentleness, and being teachable (open to reason). These are in direct contrast to bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, clearly not from above, but are from the world, leading to disorder (James 1:14-16). Do we manifest peace, gentleness, and teachableness, confirming that we have wisdom from above? If so, we will also be full of mercy and good fruits with fairness and authenticity. Perhaps we should use this list as a litmus test of our character, realizing that any failures on our part are the result of a lacking contriteness. Only by recognizing our lack of humility can we repent, asking the Lord to strengthen our faith. Our faithfulness will yield more peace by which God’s righteousness will abound (v. 18).

Will these qualities characterize your approach today in the midst of a world that craves unyielding opinions and strong emotional responses? Will you submit yourself to God for the wisdom you desire, to enjoy its benefits of righteousness?

“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

February 13

Proverbs 2:6, 11-14 “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding… discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil.”

Many of us live what we would consider secure, peaceful lives, without having to worry about threats to our safety except infrequently. Others live in crime-ridden neighborhoods, political hotbeds, or war zones where security is a minute-by-minute concern. However, all Christians are confronted with threats every day, whether we are conscious of it or not. Our flesh that rails against our spirit, the devil schemes against us, and the world exerts pressure on us to conform to its immoral values and principles. In the January 2018 issue of Tabletalk magazine, two authors reminded us of our struggles. Trilla Newbell wrote, “Sin affects us to our core. Sin wreaks havoc on every aspect of life, especially on our ability to keep the commandments to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” (1) In another article, Dr. Albert Mohler wrote, “We must not underestimate what we are up against. We face titanic struggles on behalf of human life and human dignity against the culture of death and the great evils of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. We are in a great fight for the integrity of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. We face a cultural alliance determined to advance a sexual revolution that will unleash unmitigated chaos and bring great injury to individuals, families, and the society at large. We are fighting to defend gender as part of the goodness of God’s creation and to defend the very existence of an objective moral order.” (2) As we watch the Olympic Games, prepare to vote in primary elections, or make day-to-day decisions, the world would have us show our tolerance toward evil by compromising our biblical convictions.

Wisdom emboldens us when evil threatens us, either from within or without. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith.” (1 John 5:4) We mortify our sin by the Holy Spirit who indwells us and empowers us to love and obey God. We are also called to fight against all external forces of evil. “Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Will you wisely support and do what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent today?

(1) Trilla J. Newbell, “Sin’s War Against Love,” Tabletalk Magazine, January 2018, Sanford, Florida.

(2) Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr, “Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?” Tabletalk Magazine, January 2018, Sanford, Florida.