Ah, Father’s Day, the holiday that only exists because Mother’s Day was established first. It only took about 58 years before it was recognized as a national holiday, but who’s counting? A dad was put in charge of getting it to holiday status, and he said he’d get to it. Now, I’m nor are any of the other dads here complaining. It is our joy to be the ones to provide for our families. That is what we have signed up to do. However, if that is all that we end up doing for our families than we have missed a big portion of our job. Yes, we want to fix things around the house, yes, we want to be able to pay the utility bills, and, yes, it would be nice to leave an inheritance to our children, but the most valuable thing that fathers can pass down to their families is wisdom.
When we look into the book of Proverbs, we see a father (Solomon wrote a lot of this book) who is obsessed with passing down wisdom to his son. What is fascinating is what we don’t see in a book written by a wise king to a future heir to the throne. We don’t see Solomon giving his son investment advice (other than to say riches fly away). We don’t even really see Solomon giving a whole lot of ruling or political advice. Instead, what Solomon emphasizes is finding wisdom.
If you were to do a search for wisdom on the internet, you would come up with a lot of different answers. I asked Google, and I got a mix of things like, “work smarter and not harder,” “put effort into whatever you are doing” “don’t care so much about what other people think of you.” I even asked ChatGPT, and it told me that the best piece of advice I could give to my son would be for him “to be true to himself and his values.” Those can sound profound, I guess, but there is no authority behind those statements. Most of those answers are different ways of saying the same thing: you have to figure out life on your own. We have something far better here, as one scholar put it: “The father's teachings in Proverbs constantly echo Deuteronomy, whose message flows from Yahweh in the heavens, through Moses on Mount Sinai, to parents at the city gates, and into the lives of children in the home. The allusions to Yahweh and Moses here in Proverbs endow the father’s sayings with a sense of tradition and authority” (O’Dowd, 735).
The Proverbs offer a real foundation for wisdom because it is wisdom given by our Father in heaven. There are so many places we could go, but for this sermon, I was led to Proverbs 3:1-12, with three pieces of advice from a father to a son. Dads, these are a few things that we can pass down to our families that will be the most valuable things for them (and of course we ourselves) to know and do: Remember what God says, Replace your wisdom with God’s, and Return when God Corrects.
Remember what God says
Forgetting what God says is easier to do than you think because it happens so very slowly, and it happens very naturally. Kevin DeYoung once described our lives as being on a slope towards disobedience. In order to keep God’s commands, you are going to have to put forward actual effort to make it happen. You are going to need to remember, act on, and have it as a conviction of your heart.
Far from this being a burden to remember, it is the path of blessing, as we see in verses 2 and 4. Following these commands will add years to your life (see commandment number 5), and it will bring wholeness to you, as it says in verse 2. The word translated “peace” is a Hebrew word that you have probably all heard before: Shalom. This word means more than just the absence of war. One source describes shalom as “wholeness” or “fulfillment” and went on to say, “Implicit in shalom is the idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfillment in one’s undertakings” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol 2, 931). Verse 4 continues this thought by promising success with God and man. One scholar explained it this way: “The reward for a life set on wisdom is “favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:4). This phrase is a hendiadys, a figure of speech that uses two extreme ends to represent a larger hole (e.g., "head to toe").” He went on to point out that this is how Jesus is described in Luke 2:52 (O’Dowd, 737).
In order for this to be true, though, we must submit at the heart level, which we see at verse 3. These commandments have to be our everyday carry. They have to become a part of who we are, down to the very heart. The heart, in the Bible, is the center of who you are. One scholar put it this way, “What is true for the heart is true for man as a whole” (O’Dowd, 737). Your whole person must be united to God’s wisdom.
As we get to verse 5, we see what it will look like to put God’s commands on our hearts. We tend to have a limited view of knowledge to be just data download. O’Dowd has a more beautiful way to looking at it, ““To "acknowledge" God is to "know" — we are not simply to tip our hat to God throughout our lives but to connect each and every moment to our sense both of God’s immediate presence and of his moral designs for the world” (737). Making those connections with our life to God is what shows us that God is ceaselessly relevant to our lives. Thinking about God this way leads to a deep knowledge which O’Dowd beautifully phrases it: “Rather, knowledge in the OT is a matter of participation, like knowing good food, a favorite clearing in the forest, or a close friend…Such knowledge is also multidimensional, without borders or limits. It might be most helpful to picture knowing God in all our ways as a poetic, artistic, and open–ended endeavor. It is a work of continuous imagination disciplined into our experience of God and his world” (O’Dowd, 739). It is that constant time spent with it, that day and night meditation on it is what writes in on the tablets of your hearts and binds it to your neck. There is no substitute for time in God’s Word.
Replace your wisdom with God’s
As we get on to verses 7 and 8, we are warned not to trust in our own wisdom but stay with God’s. “Let your conscience be your guide” is actually terrible advice. Your eyes can deceive you, and so much more your instincts and even your conscience. Your only guide is the Word of God. That is the only thing that won’t lead you astray.
Your own wisdom will always lead you astray. Always. This doesn’t mean that every unwise decision will have the same level of impact on your life, but rest assured that anytime you go off of God’s reservation, there will be bad consequences. What’s more, those consequences may be years later. I’m sure many of you, if you can’t draw from your own life experiences can think of public figures who have gotten what they have by underhanded means and have it suddenly stripped away when those means came to light. There is a reason why the names Enron or Bernie Madoff are so well known.
So if this is true, then why do we still fall prey to it? Well, some of that is because we are sinners who will do things that we know are wrong simply because we are sinners. We know it is wrong, but we just want to do it. Other times we can fall to our own wisdom because we haven’t spent enough time in God’s Word to know that we have gone astray! Have you heard the line “God helps those who help themselves”? According to the internet, about half of America thinks that is in the Bible (link)! I remember once in Sunday School, our teacher did an exercise where he quoted from various sources, and we the class had to answer whether it was from the Bible or not. The one I thought was in the Bible was “cleanliness is next to godliness.” I know, it’s so embarrassing! People grow! Following our own wisdom never leads anywhere good.
Sometimes we fall prey to this because living a wise life can be complicated. Sometimes there are multiple good and Biblical ways to deal with a situation. One commentator put it this way, “If it were only a matter of choosing to follow clear rules or what seems most clear to our conscience, life would be easy. True wisdom turns out to be a complex skill learned over the course of one's life that allows man to discern the Lord's will in the foggiest times of life (CF. Proverbs 30; Job 28)” (O’Dowd, 737). Again, this takes time and practice. Become as familiar as you can with God’s wisdom. Don’t deny yourself the blessing of familiarity with God’s Word.
As we get into verses 9-10, we see something that seems to come out of nowhere! Honestly, I wasn’t totally sure what to do with these verses, but I think O’Dowd is onto something: These verses are a specific application of what is called for in general terms in verses 1–8. How can one be wise and trust, know, and fear the Lord? With the fruit of one's labor – and not only the fruit but the first income from a season of work (or the first part of the paycheck, before other bills or hunger have been served). Wealth and income may be the prime example for actions and thought patterns that must be submitted to the knowledge and fear of the Lord.” (O’Dowd, 738). That’s how we show what we really believe, don’t we? The way we spend our time and especially the way we spend our money. Those things show us where our hearts are.
For a lot of us, I think how we spend our money is the best gauge of our values because many don’t value time. Parting with resources as God leads is the test of how much you trust and know God. This isn’t to say that we all live in cardboard boxes on the side of the road having given away all our possessions. It isn’t a one time act of radical action, but a lifelong offering back to God what He has given. It is a regular, deliberate, unpanicked evaluation of our lives simply asking, “How could I honor God with this gift that He has given to me?” Did you just get a raise? How can you honor God with that? It might be by helping a family member or a ministry. It could be getting out of debt you got into because of greedy spending choices and learning how to manage God’s money better. The habit to get into is a relentless asking, “How can I use this for God?”
Return when God Corrects
Finally, don’t despair when God corrects you. It is inevitable that you will follow your own wisdom. And sometimes God will bring suffering into your life for reasons known only to Him, but still for your good (O’Dowd, 738). This is the way God chastens, corrects, and crafts His children. We aren’t perfect, so we need correction. God doesn’t hate those whom He corrects, far from it. He wants you on the correct path, so He will do whatever it takes to put you on the right path. Any parent who has had to do this with a child understands how hard that is. I am a father, but I am the faintest shadow of what the Fatherhood of God is like. I know how much I love to bless my children and how hard it is to correct them or take something away from them that is bad for them but they want. How much more so must it be for God?
Even if you have never raised children, you can get a glimpse of that when you have to force yourself to do that which you don’t want to because you know you need to do it or if you have ever had to confront a friend over something that they were doing to hurt themselves or others. It isn’t easy. Now, you may say, “Well, God knows the outcome of those things. He knows that it is for that person’s good. He has infinite wisdom, so it is easy for Him to do!” Well, look at Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus at the tomb. Jesus knew that He was about to give the family the greatest news they wouldn’t have even dared to hope for, and yet He still wept. God has infinite wisdom, yes, but He also has infinite love, too.
But you have something far more than just someone correcting you. You have Christ who is crafting you. To borrow one last time from O’Dowd, “Just as God first spoke light into the creation, so he has spoken again in Jesus to make his glory fully apparent to us. For Paul, to know Jesus means to be transformed into his very likeness (2 Cor. 3:18). And in this likeness we come to walk in the ways of wisdom and righteousness. We could say that what proverbial wisdom imagined by knowing God in the ways of wise living, Jesus has multiplied 1000 times. What Lady Wisdom could not do with our fallen state, Jesus has done for us and in us and through us” (O’Dowd, 740). We have a hope that the writer of Proverbs looked forward to that we have seen with crystal clear vision. We aren’t able to be wise like we want to be. To perfectly obey these Proverbs is impossible, but we have a Savior who did live those perfectly and offers you His record by grace through faith in Him. Once you’ve put your trust in Him, He promises to indwell you and change you bit by bit. Soon, you’ll start to act like Him.
People say that I am a lot like my dad, and that’s not much of a surprise because my father regularly spent time with me. Yes, those quality times of fishing, going to a ball game, teaching me about God, taking me to conferences, those were and are all important. But what has made me like him is the quantity time I spent with him. I notice the cadence of speech that I have when I am explaining something is his. The way I rub my face when I’m tired is his. The way I hold my head, the way I think about the world is largely shaped by him. There are other things that are shaped by my mother that again quantity time was necessary to put in to get out those habits.
The same thing is true of Jesus. The more time you spend with Him, getting to know Him like we talked about earlier, the more you will be like Him. Wisdom is found in likeness to Jesus, and if you are like Jesus, that is the most valuable thing you can give to your family. I get it, I like being the dad that can repair things, is ready for things, and provides for things, but having a deep relationship with Jesus is the most important thing that I can have for my family.
O’Dowd, Ryan Patrick, Proverbs, ESV Expository Commentary, Vol. 5, Crossway, 2022.
Image by Manfred Antranias Zimmer