Wisdom Basics: The Two Women of Proverbs

Today is International Woman’s Day – a fitting day to consider how the book of Proverbs exalts and praises women, well, actually a certain kind of woman. Chapters 7 and 8 of Proverbs are an examination of two different women – The Wily Woman and Woman Wisdom. This is what your English teacher would call a juxtaposition. I encourage you to read those chapters closely and then, by examining these two ladies at once, we see certain similarities between them and also certain differences.

First, consider the similarities between these women. Both women stand at the street corners and in the marketplaces, making their presence known (7:12; 8:2-3). And both women are making their appeal to the same type of person – young, simple, and inexperienced men (7:7-8; 8:4-5). Both are advertisers – one is promoting care-free, sensual indulgence and the other promotes righteousness and the fear of God. And both women are loud (7:11; 8:1, 4).

The lies of demons ring out boldly in our society today, and meanwhile the truth of Christ booms on as well. Today, women around the world are striking, protesting and going public – much like these women in Proverbs who are vocal and active too. But active for what aim? Public for what point? It will become clear that the goals of these two women are completely opposed and on a day like today we would be wise to examine their message.

Next, consider the differences between these women. The Wily Woman is a literal prostitute – married but refusing to stay at home in the night (7:10-11). She comes to meet you with the purpose of persuading you into forbidden pleasure; and she is a manipulator, suggesting that if you fall for her there will be no consequences; but, of course, she is only working her angle (7:14-20). Woman Wisdom, however, is no physical woman – she is timeless, eternal and indeed, she is even Christ-like – she has always been with God even from the beginning (8:22-31). Her ways are true, noble, and righteous (8:20). Where the Wily Woman lies in wait like a predator – and indeed her victims are like hunted animals – Woman Wisdom waits to bless you and give to you; those who follow her turn into kings (8:15-16).

So, both of these women invite you to fall in love with them – both are looking for a relationship. But if you fall in love with the Wily Woman – as the masses do, with her cheap sexual thrills – the outcome is a tragic death (7:26-27). Fall in love with Woman Wisdom, however, and the outcome is life but also a whole lot more – wealth, joy, and wise decision-making (8:18-21).

Pursue wisdom and you get everything else thrown in – wealth, pleasure, honor. Pursue any one of those things apart from this Woman Wisdom, and they unravel in your hands, bringing about your ultimate demise.

Men, particularly young men, are meant to read these chapters and ask themselves, “which woman do I want to fall in love with?”

Women, particularly young women, are meant to read this and ask, “which woman do I want to become?”

And when young ladies seek to become like that woman – Woman Wisdom – they start to turn into the woman of Proverbs 31. And that woman is a queen. She is a woman who is worthy of praise and honor – a woman worthy of an International Women’s Day.

What characteristics are seen in that woman from Proverbs 31?

  • She is trustworthy and generous, especially to her family, who she has ensured are well-clothed and well-fed. But her work extends beyond her foundational concern for her family and is also a blessing to the poor (31:20).
  • She is efficient in managing her affairs and the affairs of her house (15). She works hard and is not too high-minded to do work with her hands – and they are strong (13, 17, 19, 25).
  • She has business-smarts; she is shrewd and makes wise investments and even buys businesses and hires employees (16). She knows how to make both purchases and sales (24).
  • She is wise and she looks to the future with courage – she is not afraid of changing seasons (21, 25). Her life brings honour, dignity, and praise, which overflows to both her husband and her family (23).

Those qualities are worth getting excited about, and vocal about. I can think of many women in my life who fit this description amazingly. I am reminded of my mother who often made us clothes as kids – and made them from scratch. I am reminded of a woman I used to work for who employed me out of her home – she was a genuine, old-school pioneer – a retired school teacher and the last of what is in many ways a dying breed of social and cultural builders – and she understood management and business and the practicalities of running what was really a small estate. I think of many of my different grandmas – always putting fine clothes on our backs and fine food on the table. I think of my wife and her incredible capacity not only as a competent and sharp health professional but also in our family she serves as a financial adviser, social planner, house manager, and child-development specialist. Many read about the woman of Proverbs 31 and think of her life as an impossible standard – I look at her and see many women in my life who all are prime examples of her dignity, her courage, her productivity, her generosity, her wisdom, and her love.

Young women need to grow up to be like her.

Young men need to grow up to be wise enough to identify her, fall in love with her, and then enable and encourage her.

And all of this growing up is only possible as we grow up into Christ, the fountain of wisdom, and who is indeed Wisdom Himself – the glorious figure who stands behind this metaphorical woman.


Wisdom Basics: According to God’s Word

What is wisdom? It is the skill of knowing what to say and how to act when faced with all the challenging situations life brings – perhaps you face a hard, financial decision, a challenging work-place situation, or a conflict between two people whom you care deeply for. Wisdom is all about navigating these challenges with skill – it is about skill in living well.[1]

Many would affirm this definition of wisdom. But when we look at what God’s word says about wisdom, this basic definition of “skill in living” takes on a few important new qualities. According to the Bible, wisdom has three central components:

First, wisdom is tied to a Person.

According to God’s word, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).[2]  The fear of God is what fuels wisdom. When you fear God, you live in a way that your daily life is captivated by His presence, His glory, and His holy hatred of sin. What this means is that wisdom is not simply making good decisions – wisdom is seeking to live before the face of the Holy God of the universe. Wisdom is first and foremost concerned with God’s assessment of any situation. What does this mean in practical terms? Fearing God means that He is big in your life – you tremble before Him. Interestingly, fearing God, when it is worked out in your experience, feels a lot like love for God. A man who loves his wife is attentive and aware of her preferences and desires – some astute husbands can even anticipate how their wife may respond in any given situation! Likewise, when we love God, we are focused, even fixated, on who He is and what He desires. Fear and love are two sides of the same coin.

Second, wisdom is tied to God’s creation.

Proverbs 3:19-20 says that God set up the universe through wisdom: “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.” God programmed the world with wisdom. To use a computer analogy, wisdom is the operating system of the universe. Wisdom is installed into God’s world. For this reason, one of the central ways Scripture encourages us to learn wisdom is to consider how God has worked natural patterns and consequences into His creation. For example, Proverbs 6:6-8 says that ants gather food in the spring when the food is abundant – and even without anyone telling them too! We need to learn from them and, likewise, be diligent and take initiative. Ants are often more in touch with how God has made the world than humans are – and so part of learning wisdom then is to work with, and not against, the natural patterns that God has sown into His handiwork.

Third, wisdom is tied to God’s righteousness.

James teaches that there is a wisdom “from above” that leads to “peace” and “a harvest of righteousness” and then there is also an unspiritual wisdom “from below” that leads to “disorder and every vile practice” (3:15-18). The similarity between these two types of wisdom is that they both involve making skillful choices and taking shrewd action; the difference between the two is that the wisdom from above originates in God and is governed by His righteous commands. Worldy wisdom is like eating fast food every day – it works, but eventually it will catch up with you; wisdom from above is like feasting at the table of a king – it is nutritious fuel that leads to joy and a thriving life in the king’s service.

Grow in the fear of the Lord. Study God’s creation. Pursue righteousness. And marinate in God’s word – especially the books of Proverbs and James. Seek wisdom!

[1] I owe much of this definition to Tremper Longman III, How To Read Proverbs (Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press, 2012), 14.

[2] All Scripture citations are from the English Standard Version.

The Politics of Life and Death

Nietzsche said God is dead, but notice how quickly that has become “death is god.”

The legislation and ethos of our day are nothing short of a death cult. We are obsessed with the politics of fruitlessness. In the wake of Neitzsche, we have seen the acceptance of no-fault divorce; the proliferation of any and all forms of birth control and a declining birth rate; the acceptance and celebration of so-called same-sex marriage (which is, by definition, a fruitless union); the acceptance and romanticization of assisted suicide; and now we distribute abortion around the globe as the glad tidings of the false gospel around which we worship.

But the gospel of Jesus is that he has overcome the grave. Jesus beat death. In his death, death has died. The more this truth is worked out in our lives, marriages, homes, and legal systems, the more we will know the joy of worshipping the God who is alive, the God who grants birth and new, spiritual birth; and then we will ultimately taste eternal life in him whose presence is the path of life…fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11).

God’s Story and Your Story

The world God made is one that has a plot line.  That is to say, all history is going somewhere. We live within that great story – we are characters in God’s narrative.

When we turn to God’s Word we get a glimpse into just how incredible the story is. It starts with Creation, with God standing over and against all that he has made, and yet relating to it intimately, particularly in his relationship with people made in his image. Mankind was to be a co-ruler with God – spreading his presence and glory to the ends of the earth. But man fell from God in Adam’s sins and rebellion, which was our sin and rebellion. In time though, God would slowly put his grace to work and overcome all the rebellion of man with its cursed consequences, like a patient farmer tilling the soil, planting a crop, and tirelessly pruning and weeding the ground before a great harvest. The climax of the plot is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man, who stepped in where we failed, and as the second Adam, became the new representative and leader for the new humanity. The great narrative concludes at a wedding feast in a new paradise on a new earth, where every song, every taste, and every face is a witness to the glorious consummation of God’s earlier promise: “they will be my people, and I will be their God.”

God’s story then is creation-fall-redemption-restoration. It is the story of all stories.

The tragedy for those who reject God, however, is that they need to substitute their own great story. In very generalized terms they might go something like this:

  • For the atheist, the story is something like nothingness-angst-hedonism-nothingness.
  • For the Marxist, the story is resources-inequality-fairness-peace.
  • For the Muslim, the story is power-rebellion-submission-glory.
  • For the environmentalist, the story is matter-pollution-stewardship-harmony.
  • For the Eastern religious thinker, the story is oneness-disintegration-actualization-integration.

Everybody is living out their days along some plotline, some narrative that speaks of some form of salvation from some ultimate crisis or evil.

When we come to terms with this, we have discovered a powerful insight into the human condition. We are all in some story; we are all trying to find deliverance from some original sin; we are all motivated by some form of ultimate hope. Take it a step further: we are all worshipping some deity – some Great Deliverer.

When sharing our faith in Jesus, one of the things we need to try to do then is to graciously but sternly confront the false narratives we find that others hold to. That is because the resurrection of Jesus is ultimate reality and the ultimate climax of history.

In other words, “Our God is alive – and yours is dead.”

But then we need to confront the false salvation narrative at the personal level.

We may have a certain philosophical narrative we are holding to, but it may or may not be what we are personally and experientially holding to. For example, many Christians believe in the resurrection but think that the real deliverer from trouble is money. Likewise, many atheists believe that there is no ultimate saviour, but their functional deliverer is a romantic relationship.

If you are a Christian, God’s grace has gone to work in your life in a different way than it has gone to work in mine. Of course, we all share a common salvation for God has saved us by faith (and is saving us) and has given us the same Spirit and the same baptism. Yet the particular sin and struggle that Jesus is overcoming in your life is different than the particular sin he is overcoming in mine. For this reason, we need to consider our “testimony” at a deeper level. What is God saving you from right now, present tense? Maybe you were a poser now finding your true identity and confidence in Jesus. Maybe you were a womanizer now finding true and lasting beauty and pleasure in Christ. Maybe you were an addict now finding true freedom in Jesus.

Maybe like me, you suffered from a success-motivated, status-driven perfectionism that God is changing into deep joy and contentment in any circumstance.

Consider God’s grand story.

Consider how God’s story is working out in your story.

Consider how that intersects with the stories of others.

That’s the first place to start.

“Win the man, not the argument”

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (ESV):

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In this passage, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the absolute importance of having love as your driving motivator in ministry. The same is true, especially, when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and hell with people in your life. That good news of Jesus’ accomplishment is what makes guilty sinners like us righteous before the Holy God and Creator of the universe. It overcomes our greatest need, which is to be saved from death, and it fulfills our greatest desire, which is to be truly known and fully loved by God. 

This will be the second post, of four, on sharing faith. The big idea in this one is that all our proclamation, argumentation, and conversation needs to be coloured by the love of Jesus.

I heard an old line that originates I believe from Jim Wilson, who said when declaring the gospel the goal is to win the man and not the argument.

Of course, the point is not to downplay the importance of the argument. God’s word indeed tells us to be ready to give a defense for the faith in 1 Peter 3:15: “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV). The word there for “defense” is apolagia – it is the word that we get “apologetics” from. We need to do apologetics. We need to use arguments and we need to seek to persuade. Truth matters.

However, we must remember that the goal is not to win the argument – the goal is to win the man (or the woman). We have already won the argument. The resurrection of Jesus is an event in history – the Christian worldview makes sense rationally and logically but fundamentally we are asserting a historical reality of a God who died and was raised. It’s not primarily a philosophical argument as much as it is a statement of fact that demands a response. Christ is presently reigning at the Father’s right hand whether you agree or disagree, believe or disbelieve. For this reason, even when people reject our arguments, there is no reason to get hot under the collar. You don’t need to try to be right. You already are right. The resurrection has already proven you right – so let God confirm the soundness of your words in the quiet whisper of their heart. Or let him harden them through their continued rejection of the good news.

Genuine love, that is confident and bold, must drive our engagement with people. This means letting  go of a debating spirit; letting go of cheap shots or snide remarks; and, for example, refraining from using words like “pagan” or a “heathen.” Yes – non-Christians are the sons of disobedience and the children of wrath, but how helpful is it to call them pagans? I’ve seen this language a fair bit lately. Sadly, some evangelists so deeply demonize the unbelieving man that even if their arguments are won, the man hasn’t been – he now wants nothing to do with you and even if he comes to saving faith in Jesus, he certainly won’t be coming to your church or home group.

Speak in love, show genuine respect and acknowledge any good or true points they make in the discussion, and then unpack the gracious confrontation of the gospel – there is a way of confronting people with the truth of gospel without being “confrontational.” That is what it means to win the man. We need to remember then that we are ambassadors of Christ and his love and grace (2 Cor 5:20). That doesn’t mean that we won’t deliver hard words, stern rebukes, or bold warnings, but fundamentally we need to get to the point where, in love, we truly want to accept and welcome this unbelieving man into the kingdom.

So win the man, not the argument.

Be Yourself // Forget Yourself

“For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NET)

A few years ago I was at a conference by Alistair Begg and he discussed a few of the steps he takes in preparing to deliver a sermon. The final step is simple, and it is something I have to remind myself of often: be yourself and forget yourself. I am not writing about sermon prep, however – I want to share how important this is for sharing Christ in your everyday relationships.

Step 1: Be Yourself

The first thing you notice more broadly in this section of Scripture is that Paul is talking about himself a lot! He is explaining his ministry. He is given a very straightforward defense of who he is as God’s servant. But part of this is that he is very aware of his own weakness and insufficiency for the ministry he is called to. That is because, at a very fundamental level, Paul recognizes that God is the fundamental mover behind the gospel – persuasive and powerful people are unable to achieve any lasting spiritual results in the lives of others. God is the one who must create light out of darkness – just like he did in the beginning.

The wonderful thing in all of this is that Paul can then refer to himself as a jar of clay. He accepts his limitations and weaknesses. He accepts himself.

For anyone interested in sharing their faith, the first step is to be yourself. You are not Billy Graham. You are not Corrie Ten Boom. You are not Paul. But God made you, you. He placed you in this city. He placed you in your family and gave you a personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and a whole set of experiences to shape you to be his servant, and also his son or daughter.

So be yourself. 

God has ordained his strength to work through your weakness and through your personality quirks. That means that effective ministry involves accepting who you are. There is a classic definition of preaching, I think from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who said that preaching is “truth through personality.” God has chosen to use you and your weird personality.

I am a middle child. I am a little goofy at times. I am often insecure about a great number of things. Yet God has made me who I am. When you are you – God’s glory and beauty shine through you. Don’t try to be someone else.


Step 2: Forget Yourself

The next thing is so important too. We also need to forget ourselves. It’s not about you. Be you – and now that you are you – stop being so concerned all the time with you!

We need to accept how God has made us. We need to revel in the fact that we are his sons and servants, his daughters and servants. Reveling in this wonderful truth; however, should lead to God-focused humility and not self-focused pride. We need to learn to forget ourselves by increasingly, dumping our pride and self-centeredness when we see it cropping up. And it always crops up.

It comes out in our deep fear of rejection from someone who has already rejected Jesus. It comes up when we are uncomfortable. We will encounter tense moments and opposition and risky situations. We need to expect that. One of the hardest things for me is just finding the energy to push through a tedious task or chore. But in that too we need to cultivate humility – and forget ourselves

To share our faith we need to be ourselves and forget ourselves. We need to accept ourselves, as God accepts us in Christ but also cultivate the humility that it’s not all about us.

Assisted Suicide and Boiling Goats

I recently read an article by CNN that said approximately 13 medically-assisted deaths are happening in Ontario every week. The same article said that Canada is one of the few countries, along with Switzerland and Germany, that have a legal provision for assisted suicide or physician-assisted dying.

This is a big topic and when it comes to ethics I follow an old approach, oft-mocked in academic circles: divine command theory. What does God have to say about such matters? If men and women are merely clumps of evolved goo devoid of any intrinsic value or significance then the ethics of assisted suicide are significantly altered. But I have come to believe that men and women are made with a value and significance that comes from the Living God – we are all stamped with the imago dei. 

I also believe that God revealed himself in the Scriptures – his words. Really the foundational, written aspect of that self-revelation is the Torah, or what Christians refer to as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In that Torah we find a very fascinating, but hard-to-understand verse which, I believe, has great relevance for this discussion today – there is a divine command here to recon with.

The verse comes up in Exodus 23:19 and then again in Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21 and in each case the wording is the same: “you shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

The obscure reference has been variously understood, as J.I. Durham writes: “The prohibition of cooking a kid in the milk of its own mother has been variously explained on magical grounds…or as a reaction against Dionysian…or Canaanite…religious practices” (Exodus – Vol 3, p.334, Word Biblical Commentary, 1998). In some Jewish writing they have used this passage to argue that you should not eat meat at the same time as you drink milk.

That might be true. But I don’t see any explicit warrant to understand the verse this way emerging from the text in question. I think there is a more straightforward interpretation:

Don’t use what is meant for life as an instrument of death. 

Milk is meant for the nourishment of the young goat. That is the goat’s primary source of life and growth. To boil that goat in the very nutrients meant to give it life is sick and twisted. So the Old Testament people of God were not to violate the natural order in this way – it’s cruel and unusual.

A parallel in modern times would be something like this:

  • In Somalia, for instance, don’t confiscate the humanitarian food drop intended for the starving people to gain leverage for your tribal war.
  • Or similarly, don’t use your foster-parent income to pay for your cocaine addiction.

Don’t use what is intended for life, as an instrument of death.

We need to consider this principle afresh today, especially in the ongoing cultural discussion regarding assisted suicide. Some of my readers might object and say “but that is the Old Testament and we are not obligated to follow that anymore!” No – the Old Testament is God’s wisdom and God’s revelation and even though, as I believe, the Christian is no longer bound underneath this covenant, or this package of laws, there is still much good to be gained here – for all Scripture is exhaled from God, including this obscure little verse (2 Tim 3:16).

In Canada, assisted suicide, also known as physician-assisted dying, or medically-assisted suicide, is becoming increasingly popular socially and also, by extension, legally.

What we need to recognize, based on this verse, is that medicine is intended for life. Medicine ought never to be used as a means of death. That is twisting its natural use.

Likewise, physicians are meant to encourage life. Don’t use physicians as instruments of death – that is not why they exist.

Moreover, a publicly-funded medical system is for the welfare of its citizens – don’t use this public welfare as an instrument to remove Canadian citizens.

In all of this the standard God wants us to acknowledge is that He has created the world in an ordered and structured fashion. Milk is for life. Medicine is for health. We do a great injustice, not only to one another, but even to God’s natural order established in creation, when we subvert that structure and use what is intended for life as a means of death.

And, by the way, the glory of the cross of Jesus, the Son of God, is that He used a means of death as an instrument of life. He defeated death on a bloody Roman gibbet and rose to life after three days. That is what we celebrate on Easter, or Resurrection, Sunday and it is the heartbeat of Christianity (and reality). That is the better path – and repentance means following his path to life, and everlasting life, personally, socially, and legally.