Proverbs 9:8-10 reprove a wise man, and he will love you.9Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man and he will increase in learning. 10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
There is not much wisdom evident in this world today. We live in a world where the closest thing to wisdom, are wiseacres, wisecracks, and wiseguys. All of these are involved in pranks and practical jokes, and this is not wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the practical application of knowledge. Its not enough to know things, if you don’t also know how to make use of what you know. Knowledge is an acre equals 43,650 square feet, wisdom is the ability to use the acre to grow a crop. Perhaps the easiest thing to remember is that wisdom is sanctified common sense. Perhaps the best thing to remember is this promise of God:
James 1:5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.
So, if wisdom is a gift that God will freely give to those who ask, there should be no shortage of wisdom. Yet we know there is such a shortage, and I believe the reason for the shortage is revealed in out text: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom."
We know that there is not much fear of the Lord in the World today. The 10 commandments are no longer taught in the schools. Psychology says we shouldn’t be afraid, we shouldn’t feel guilty, our conscience must have made a mistake. We are told that the chief thing in life is to do what we want and to feel good. Even in the church, we are more likely to hear about how Jesus died for our sins and set us free from death and the devil, than we are to hear about the fear of God. You see there is a fear of God that is heard in the church, it is the law that shows us our sins, and seeing our sins we are called to repentance. This fear of God, is a fear of his punishment, and it may appear that once we have the forgiveness that is ours in the blood of Jesus, that there is an end to the fear of God. The problem is that this is only half of what the fear of God is, the other half of the fear of God is that which moves us to want to serve God. Luther captured this, when in explaining the commandments he used the phrase: We should fear and love God.... It is the love of God which moves us to want to serve God. The love of God moves us to respond to His love and mercy. This is wisdom, and this is the second, often lost half of the fear of the Lord.
The world is doing everything possible to prevent us from the second half of the fear of the Lord, that which leads us to the service of God. And so it is that we need to be reminded of our debt to God, for all that he has done for us. This is what we find in our Epistle lesson, the Letter to Philemon. It is a personal appeal which first of all reminds Philemon of his debt to God for the grace and salvation that is his in Jesus Christ, and also of his debt to Paul, who brought him this good news. It is an obligation that cannot be repaid, for no one can do anything sufficient to earn for themselves salvation, or to repay Jesus for suffering and dying to set us free, and opening heaven. And even though this debt cannot be repaid, that is no excuse for being ungrateful, and no reason why we shouldn’t work to serve God.
What work did Paul call Philemon to do? Well, there was this runaway slave, Onesimus, who hadn’t been very useful before, but he had became a Christian, and had been changed, and now he was useful. Philemon is told that he should not receive this runaway slave as a runaway, deserving punishment, but to receive him as we would Paul himself, to receive him as a brother in Christ. Now slaves in those days were property, bought and sold, and worth considerable money. Paul is also asking Philemon, not to put this slave to work making money, but to put him to work to advance the Gospel. Paul is asking Philemon to make a large gift to the glory of God, and for the advance of the gospel. Paul is asking Philemon to acknowledge his debt to God’s grace and mercy, and his debt to Paul and the bringer of this good news, and out of love to make a generous gift.
This is what stewardship is about. It calls upon those who have received, to give according to the blessings they’ve received. The rule we use, is that on the 1st day of the week, that is before paying the bills, we set aside a portion of the blessings with which God has blessed us, to return it to His service, and to the advance of the gospel. How much? Well, the minimum that was suggested was 10%, and in the OT that was before taxes, and before expenses. But the amount isn’t as important as the reason. And the reason is, because this is what wisdom is about. It remembers the debt that we owed on account of our sin, and it remembers that that debt has been paid if full by Jesus blood. And the love and gratitude for all that God has done for us in Christ moves us to service. It moves us to give of our time, our talents, and our treasures. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our debt, so that we can see this opportunity for service.
James 3:17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.