How to be wise – Proverbs 2

Heading image for the book of Proverbs

How to be wise is something many people search for all their lives. Other people seem to have a natural godliness and grace about them. But it’s not natural. We’re naturally opposed to God. Godliness (like playing an instrument) takes time; it’s something to work towards. But the more you do grow in godly wisdom, the more changed you are, and the more you walk in the light by nature – rather than duty.

Proverbs is here to teach you godly wisdom, and chapter two tells you how to be wise – and why.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube.

Seek out the treasures

Last time we thought about what wisdom is. The switch here turns to the practicalities of how to be wise.

The first thing to say is that the whole chapter is actually one long sentence! All the English translations split that up for us, but it’s helpful then to spot the connections:

V1-3 Listen, cry out, search
[These are phrased as “if you listen… cry out… search…”]
V5 Then: Understand fear of the LORD
V6-8 For: The LORD grants wisdom
V9: Then: Understand what is right, just, fair
V10-11 For: Wisdom will enter your heart
V12-15 Wisdom will keep you from evil
[The two “thens” change you towards God and to others.]
V16-19 So you will be kept from immorality
V20-22 So you will walk in good paths, blessed
[The outcome is very much a changed, godly life. Not simply avoiding sin, but walking in the light of God by nature.]

Let’s dig into verses 1-8 a bit more first.

Active, not passive

The first thing to say about this search for godly wisdom is that it’s active, not passive. It doesn’t seep into you like steam into veg – you have to grasp it. Read v1-2. “Concentrate on understanding” is literally “inclining your heart to understanding” – where your heart is your mind, your will, and your affections – “the inner you”. Focus on wisdom and understanding; put effort in.

Read v3. The good news is that God freely gives wisdom to those who ask – so ask! Cry out! Not as a one-off, or only in a crisis, but all the time.

Read v4. Metal detectorists often go out in the hope of finding some remarkable Saxon or Viking treasure – and sometimes they find them! It takes effort, patience, time (& optimism!). Search for wisdom like that: Put the effort in!

Sounds like hard work. Is it worth it? What’s the “treasure”? Read v5. Like the psalms, this is written in the style of Hebrew poetry where each verse is a pair of statements – each half is a re-statement or expansion on the other half.

The fear and knowledge of God

So v5 is particularly beautiful and rich. As you focus your energies on growing in wisdom, your knowledge of God himself grows. The Bible speaks of someone “fearing” God in two ways: 

  • One is the terror of coming under the judgment of God.
  • The other is someone coming to understand the greatness and majesty of God and then coming to him with awe, respect, honour. This is obviously the v5 sense.

But the second half of v5 says that through wisdom you will also fain “knowledge of God” – not just knowing stuff about him, but knowing him.

My uncle Colin got an MBE years ago. The moment he met the Queen is on video. Like everyone else, he showed her honour, respect, a little awe. He “feared” her (as in v5), but he didn’t know her.

As you grow in the wisdom of God you grow in fear for him and in knowledge of him; you know more about him, and you know him. Because where does wisdom come from, except God! Read v6-8.

Notice that there’s something circular about this! You listen, cry out, and search for wisdom – and God gives freely. God gives wisdom freely to all who seek it. Seek it and you shall find it – and you will find God himself in his wisdom. Then you grow in fear of him and knowledge of him. And as you grow in fear and knowledge of him, you grow in wisdom.

The search for wisdom is active, not passive. But it’s given, not earned.

So while growth is wisdom is active, not passive, it’s also true that wisdom is given, not earned. V7-8 spell out how such wisdom and relationship with God shape your life. We’ll explore more of that in the coming verses. First:

Get joy into your mind

Remember the flow of the chapter: You listen, cry out, and search for wisdom, and then there are two “thens”. The first is that you grow in fear and knowledge of God (recognising his greatness and intimacy of your relationship with him). The second “then” is how that flows out into your life.

Read v9-10. Before we look at the way it works out in your life, we’ll think a bit more about v10.

Again, remember that the two halves of the verse complement each other, restating and amplifying a truth. Wisdom will come into your mind, will, affections.

The word “soul” tends to make you think of something purely spiritual – but in the Old Testament it was much wider. Lev 17:11 the “soul” of an animal was in its blood. Soul means the “whole life” – mind, body, spirit – the whole of you. And wisdom coming into your mind, will and affections means knowledge will bring joy to your whole self. So read v5 (NLT) again.

How so? As you find God, you find wisdom, because he is wisdom. And so that you might know God’s wisdom, he has communicated himself to you in his Son. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 1:24, Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” In fact, Paul prayed that you might receive wisdom.

A New Testament prayer for Wisdom

Read Ephesians 1:16-19.

Paul understands the wonders of Proverbs 2, and he actually prays that other Christians might grasp it and enjoy it too. Proverbs encouraged you to listen, to cry out, and search for wisdom – and (v16b) Paul does that for others! It’s good to pray for others’ welfare and health, but the priority in prayers for other Christians ought to be more shaped by the examples of prayer in the Bible. Pray this prayer for one another by name. Daily!

And the prayer is to the infinite but knowable God – that you would grow in wisdom and the knowledge of God. And how is that possible? Only through a contemplation of the wisdom of God displayed to you through Jesus.

For you who have never come to God for forgiveness, there is no eternal hope. If you have never trusted in Christ’s work at the cross, taking the punishment you deserve, your only inheritance in the future is hell itself. For you who have never bowed the knee to the Creator of us all, God’s power will overwhelm, crush, and terrify you.

But it need not be like that; God has revealed himself to us and given us all a way to come to him.

  • You cry out for forgiveness for all your sin and he is willing to forgive, and to save you from hell.
  • But more, he adopts you as a his child.
  • The infinite, terrifying God becomes the perfect, intimate, loving Father – your heavenly Father.
  • A God you can know. And your knowledge of him grows, which is what Paul is praying for.

In Christ

For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy.

Proverbs 2:10

Paul prays that God will give you more wisdom, a deeper knowledge of himself. And how? By contemplation of what he has in store for you in Christ: As with Proverbs 2, the change comes to your heart and your understanding – you grow wholly within. And remember Proverbs 2:10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. The joy is in Christ: The hope you have in him; the inheritance of eternal bliss, the certainty of resurrection achieved in God’s power, proven in Christ.

Contemplate these things and you will grow in wisdom, in the fear of the Lord, in your knowledge of God.

It’s active, not passive. And it’s given, not earned! And the result? A life lived for God not marked by duty and obligation, but by delight – walking in the light by nature.

Be transformed in your mind

So now read Proverbs 2:9-11 again.

A godly wisdom, a knowledge of God, and a joy in him (stemming from the hope and inheritance in Christ and the display of his power raising Christ from the dead) – all that steers you through life. You understand what is right, just, and fair. Your spiritual discernment grows and you are able to steer a godly course through life – a life lived with eternity in mind, secure in Christ.

Paul spoke about it again in Romans 12:1-2: …in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (CSB)

A life lived

Christ is the one sacrifice for your sin, and you are cleansed and united to him. So offer your body as a living sacrifice, offering the worship of a godly life. Do that by being transformed in your mind, renewed by a growing wisdom – growing in fear of the Lord, growing to know him better. In doing that:

Wisdom binds us.

  • Wisdom will keep you from bad company, v12-15.
    • That’s not necessarily people with balaclavas and swag bags! It can be life-long friends or family, enticing you down a path away from God.
    • The paths to life and to death are separate – you can’t keep a foot on both at the same time.
  • Wisdom will also keep you from immorality, v16-19.
    • Remember Proverbs is written from a father to a son, so he speaks of the immoral woman.
    • But obviously, sexual immorality can affect any man or woman, of any age, married or single.
    • “Entering her house leads to death” – v18 – isn’t limited to physically entering into adultery, as Christ made clear in his Sermon on the Mount.
    • Your imagination will lead you into sin if you let it. 
    • Better to be seeking out wisdom and knowing God more – as you will be doing for all eternity.
  • Wisdom will keep you in good company and under God’s blessing, v20-21.
    • For Israel, occupation of the land or being uprooted from it was a covenant matter: blessing or curse.
    • Wisdom keeps you in the steps of the good, in the paths of the righteous.
    • Which is why our relationships as believers is so important: The Bible has no sense of a churchless Christian. 
    • Wisdom and a shared relationship with God in Christ means we’re all his bride, his church, his body – all collective words. Wisdom binds us.
    • An outcome of godly wisdom is active involvement with his people. Don’t be aloof. Don’t be a fool.

Active, not passive!

So, seek out the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Through them you will grow in your awe (fear) of God, and you will know him better. 

  • Growth is active, not passive. But it’s given, not earned.
  • You know him as he is revealed to you in Christ; he is the wisdom of God that brings your heart joy.
  • A wise, godly life springs out of a heart of joy in Christ.
  • You walk in the light by nature, not duty.
  • And you walk with his people, praying for one another and growing together.

So: What will you do today to step up your listening, crying out, and seeking after wisdom? How will you start to pray for others in the church, as Paul did, that we might all grow?