At this point you may be thinking that being wise or strong or valiant is too much work. It’s too demanding! Does it really matter that I’m dependable and thoughtful about my work? Or that I’m generous and diligent in all that I do? Or that I watch my tongue and use it wisely? Wisdom, as described throughout the book of Proverbs, is about making wise decisions in the thick of life. And in Proverbs 8:35-36 Lady Wisdom tells us that those who love her will live, but those who sin against her will wrong their own souls. Wisdom is the stuff of everyday life, but it is also the stuff of life and death.
But the chapter doesn’t end with verse 26. If it did, we would have a moral code but no resource beyond our own determination to make it work. What makes us wise isn’t found in verses 11 through 26. It is found in verse 30: “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Here’s the bottom line: the wise person, the strong, committed person, knows the difference between what passes and what lasts. The wise person chooses to live for what is eternal. Verse 30 tells us that charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting. Beauty is good, but it doesn’t last. What lasts forever is our relationship with God.
Sermons I’ve heard on Proverbs 31 have tended to focus on the woman’s skills, her busyness. These are evidences of her wisdom, but they are not the point of the passage. True wisdom starts with God and our relationship to Him. It starts with “the fear of the Lord.” What is this “fear” of God? Is it terror in God’s presence? No, it is a reverent understanding of who God is and where we stand in relationship to Him. The single most important thing that you and I can know is who God is. We must know Him as our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer.
We must know that God is our Creator. The psalmist captured this:
You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body (psalm 139:13-15).
We do not draw our next breath unless God our Creator enables us. The apostle Paul told the Athenians that it is in God that we live and move and have our being (acts 17:25-28).
We must know that God is our Redeemer. Again David the psalmist gave voice to this for us:
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (psalm 103:2-5).
Through faith in Jesus Christ our Redeemer we have new life. He has taken the punishment for our sins and has redeemed us (or bought us back) from Satan for God. We must know that God is our Redeemer.
We also must know that God is our Sustainer. Old Testament prophet Isaiah put it this way:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk, and not be faint (isaiah 40:28-31).
In the routine of daily life or in the crises that overtake us, God is our Sustainer.
At 4:30 one Saturday morning in 1994 our phone rang, waking us. Such a call is most likely bad news, a prank call, or a drunk calling a wrong number. For us it was bad news. On the other end of the line was our oldest daughter, Susan, calling from the south of France where she and her family lived. She had just received a call from the ministry in the north of France where Kent, our only son, worked with profoundly disabled adults. Kent, on his way to a meeting on his bicycle, had been struck and killed by a drunk driver. At a time like that people ask all kinds of questions: Is God sovereign—could He have kept it from happening? Is God love? Does God care? Is God there? It is in the face of a tragedy and in the midst of sorrow that somehow we must grasp the cord of truth about God revealed in Scripture: God is sovereign and in some way works through tragedy. God is love in ways that we may not grasp in this life but that one day will be plain to us. God does care and will use this for good in our lives. God is there. He is with us. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God never leaves us nor forsakes us in the worst of times when our fears and tears threaten to overwhelm us (hebrews 13:5, quoting deuteronomy 31:6).
This awareness of God at work even in tragedy gives us a different way to see life and see pain. Knowing God sustains us in our darkest moments and teaches us the difference between what passes and what lasts. But knowing God also sustains us in daily life. It’s not easy to be trustworthy, but God is there and sees that we can be trusted. It’s not convenient to be shrewd, but God sees our work and is honored by it. It’s not easy to be generous, but God cares about our generosity. It’s not fun to be diligent, but we work to glorify God our Maker. It’s not easy to speak wisely and kindly all the time, but God hears what we say. Our relationship with God gives us a different perspective on life. We know what matters. We know what lasts and what passes away, and we choose what lasts eternally. And we bring that perspective to every choice we make—whether or not to be trustworthy, whether or not to plan ahead and work with care, whether or not to show compassion, whether or not to pursue our goals with diligence, whether or not to control our tongues. What we believe about God determines how wisely we live life. The fear or reverent awe of God motivates us to manage our time wisely in the light of eternal values. The fear of the Lord motivates us to use our resources wisely to benefit others. The fear of the Lord helps us evaluate every choice we make each day.
A hundred years ago Ella Wheeler Wilcox published a short poem whose lines are as true today as they were a century ago when she wrote them:
One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow;
’Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That tells the way we go.
It’s the set of the sail and not the gale. It’s your choice. Men and women, singles and marrieds, learn from Proverbs 31. Choose to live your life wisely, in the light of what lasts forever. If you do, you will be characterized by a strong commitment, by trustworthiness, by shrewdness, by generosity, by diligence, and by a controlled tongue. Even more, you’ll know the difference between what passes and what lasts—and you’ll give yourself to what lasts for eternity. That’s God’s formula for living life with skill. Be wise. Be a person of strength. It’s your choice.