The Beginning of Wisdom (Psalm 111:10)
The Beginning of Wisdom
(One Lord: No One Like You)
October 21st, 2018
I. How Skillful are You?
Let me ask you a serious question in a not-so-serious, 'Seussian' format:
You may be skillful with bottled ships. You may be skillful in coloring lips.
You may be skillful in crafty crafts. You may be skillful in getting laughs.
You may be skillful in singing songs. You may be skillful in banging gongs.
You may be skillful in sorting files. You may be skillful at laying tiles.
You may be skillful in remembering facts. You may be skillful in filling sacks.
You may be skillful in shmoozing folks. You may be skillful in scrambling yolks.
You may be skillful in reading your wife, but are you skillful at living life?
To be skillful at something like quilting or lilting or stilt-ing is one thing. But to be skillful at living life is quite another. Think about it: are you skillful when it comes to make the most of your relationships? Are you skillful when it comes to spending your money and energy? Are you skillful in terms of your goals and goods? Are you skillful when it comes to temptation and time; when it comes to conflict and crises; when it comes to your family and your future?
I think all of us can agree being skillful in these areas is far more important than our woodworking or athletic or musical skills. With this kind of skill, there is joy; there is fulfillment; there is purposefulness. Without it, there is hurt and heartache; there is futility and loss.
Did you know the Bible has a name for this kind of skill? It's known in Scripture as wisdom. Sometimes wisdom is confused with knowledge, that is, the man or woman who is considered wise is simply someone who is 'book smart', or 'business smart'; someone who is really smart and/or really successful. But that's not wisdom. And yet, according to God's word, knowledge and wisdom do go hand in hand.
Let me give you an example. To have knowledge about adultery is to understand that God has said in his word, explicitly in the Ten Commandments, that adultery is wrong. But to have wisdom about adultery is to know how to navigate life in light of this knowledge. For example, Solomon describes for his son, in Proverbs 5, how the wise man lives in light of the truth about adultery: For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil...Her feet go down to death...Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house...
II. The Passage: "All Those Who Practice It" (111:1-10)
Do you want to be wise? Do you want to be skillful when it comes to living life? If you do, then turn with me to Psalm 111. Are focus this morning will be on the very last verse, on verse 10. But let me read the whole psalm, so we can better understand the context.
A. The Fear of the Lord (vs. 1-9, 10b)
Psalm 111, verse 1. The psalmist exclaims...
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.  Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.  Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.  He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.  He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.  He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.  The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;  they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.  He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
Now, I hope you noticed that this psalm is overflowing with declarations about the nature of, the character of, the attributes, and the subsequently, the praise of God himself. Do you see that? Yahweh, the God of Israel, is a mighty God who works in mighty ways. His works are full of “splendor and majesty”. He is righteous. He is gracious. He is merciful. He is powerful. He is faithful. He is just. He is Provider. He is Lawgiver. He is Redeemer. Verse 9...”Holy and awesome is his name!”
In light of all that, it's no wonder then that verse 10 begins with the phrase, “the fear of the LORD...the fear of Yahweh”. In the past two lessons, we've talked about the idea that this practice of fearing God is incredibly necessary, but today, incredibly neglected. As we've studied, we've seen that the Hebrew word for “fear” can, depending on the context, mean a lot more than our English word.
So yes, “the fear of the LORD” can mean, as sinners, being overwhelmed by the justice, power, and wrath of God (that's probably how most people think of it). But it can also mean being overwhelmed by the grace of God...by the faithfulness of God...by the provision of God. It includes being overwhelmed by everything we find in verses 1-9 of Psalm 111; by every-thing that makes God God. Therefore, as I said, it's not surprising that we find that phrase at the beginning of verse 10. But look at what it goes on to tell us about “the fear of Yahweh”.
B. The Beginning of Wisdom (v. 10a)
We read there in verse 10 that “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom”. Whoa! That's the very thing we're interested in, isn't it? We want to be skillful when it comes to living life. And this verse is telling us that the place to start when it comes to wisdom is “the fear of the LORD”. And this isn't the only verse that makes this same assertion.
Proverbs 15:33... The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom...Job 28:28... “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” Proverbs 1:7 uses a similar format, but speaks of knowledge... The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge...Proverbs 9:10 combines these...The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
And consider again the wording of Psalm 111, verse 10...The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. But what exactly does this mean? How and why is the “fear of God”, the practice of fearing God...how and why is it the place to start when it comes to getting wisdom?
Well, this Psalm highlights a number of truths about God that are directly connected to both fearing God and walking in wisdom. Let's look at four of those this morning. First of all, when it comes to fearing God and walking in wisdom, we need to think about...
1. Practice in Light of Authority
Look again at the end of verse 7...all his precepts are trustworthy...
When it comes to skillful living, sometimes the knowledge to which we end up turning is not from God. Nevertheless, in terms of our practice, we count so many sources as ultimately authoritative. From conservative talk radio to the mainstream media, from self-help books to medical websites, from Netflix to novellas, from our favorite shows to our favorite games, from celebrities and coworkers, to chat rooms and congressmen, we so often give our ears to so many voices.
And don't be fooled, all of those voices shape you. All of them. The only variables are how and to what degree. This is not to say that such voices cannot tell us the truth. But what they tell us will always be limited and tainted because of sin.
When it comes to ultimately authoritative, only God's voice can lead us to wisdom. The knowledge he gives is not limited or tainted. There is no authority higher. There is no truth more pure. There is no understanding more exhaustive. Do you believe that? If so, is that evident in how and how often you give your ear to His voice? And consequently, how you consider the other voices out there?
But there's more. When it comes to fearing God and walking in wisdom, we also need to think about...
2. Practice in Light of Accountability
We go on to read in verse 8...[God's precepts] are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. God's commands are not museum pieces to be stared at on a wall or pedestal, or in a glass case. His truth is not something to be admired from afar. We are called to perform his precepts. We are called to live in light of God's word.
And though it is not addressed explicitly in this psalm, the idea of accountability is implied. Listen to the ending of another wisdom book. This is the conclusion of Solomon in Ecclesiastes:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)
Fearing God is always the starting point for waking in wisdom because it reminds us that we are accountable for all of our decisions, for all of our attitudes and ambitions, for all of our words and relationships. This is true for both Christians and non-Christians. As Paul made clear in Romans 14:10-12...
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Now, if we continue thinking about this psalm, I think we also have to say that fearing God and walking in wisdom, we must think about...
3. Practice in Light of Affection
What did we learn at the end of verse 4? That...the LORD is gracious and merciful.  He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.  He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. And then verse 9...He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.
God has deep affection for his people. He is not a dispassionate lawgiver. His is not the authority of a corporate entity or of government regulator, that is, rules from some far off, impersonal source. Distance and dispassion doesn't necessarily change the rightness of any given rule. But it can change how we receive any given rule.
In contrast to this, God's truth, his rules, his revelation is given in light of his grace and mercy, in light of his incomparable goodness. His authority is the authority of a loving Father, who cares about his creation. I daresay you would be more inclined to listen to a doctor who you knew, one you knew cared about you personally, rather than just some TV or website doctor, even one with gobs of expertise.
When we are overwhelmed by the goodness of God, it changes how we think about the guidance of God. Or to put it another way, fearing God in light of his goodness is a starting point for the path of wisdom, as his love inclines us more and more to his voice.
Let me share one more insight from this psalm. I think we can say that when it comes to fearing God and walking in wisdom, we need to consider...
4. Practice in Light of Acknowledgment
Think again about these verses: Verse 1...Praise [Yahweh]! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.  Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. And also at the end of verse 10... His praise endures forever!
Clearly the psalmist is not ashamed of God. He is not ashamed of acknowledging God, of praising God, of glorifying God in front of others. He delights in both God and his works.
I think that represents a seismic heart shift that only God can accomplish inside a sinner: to move from me-centeredness to God-centeredness.
And when God is acknowledge as the true center of all things, the One around which every-thing should and does revolve, when God is acknowledged in the same way Paul acknow-ledged him in Romans 11:36...For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever...When God is acknowledged in this way, then the heart is oriented toward genuine wisdom. Why? Because only then is the heart oriented toward God and his ways.
III. Go to the Treasure Chest
So let's summarize. To be overwhelmed by everything that makes God God (that is, to fear God, to be in awe of God), is the starting point for genuine wisdom. Why? Because only when we submit to the authority of God, only when we are sobered by our accountability before Him, only when we receive His lavish affection, only when we acknowledge that He alone is God, will we be inclined to walk in his ways. Solomon sums it up like this:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5–8)
Is it even clearer to you why fearing God is so important? But...but...we know that God's word describes us as those who regularly lean on our own understanding...as those who constantly feel wise in our own eyes. We are prone to live under other authorities, we often ignore our eternal accountability, and are indifferent toward God's affection; and, in so many cases, are stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge that from him and through him and to him are all things.
If this is true, what hope do we have? What hope do we have of being skillful at living life? Our hope is found in one short verse from Paul's letter to the Colossians. Are you ready? Here it is. Paul's hope is for these believer to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, [and here it comes... Colossians 2:3] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Paul is telling us that in Jesus Christ, we can find everything we need to live life skillfully; to know the joy; fulfillment; and purposefulness we long for. Why in Christ? Because as Paul told the Colossians a chapter earlier, For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19–20) All that makes God God is in Christ. He is Lord! And as we know, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
But for those prone to live under other authorities, who often ignore eternal accountability, who are indifferent toward God's affection; and are stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge God's position, as Paul tells us here, Christ means reconciliation. Through his blood, shed for our sins, Jesus has brokered an unbreakable peace deal between God and humanity.
And because of the forgiveness and freedom He makes possible, you and I can actually fear God, in the very way he intended us to be. Not in awe of the creation over the Creator, and not simply afraid of his justice. No. Reconciled to, in the presence of, and overwhelmed by everything that makes God God. And that is the starting point, the birthplace of true wisdom. Let's pray and ask Him, by His grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, to help us walk in the wisdom of God in light of the fear of God.