8.23.20 Wisdom for the times
I spoke with a friend on the phone last week who because of his ethnicity, experience, and his skill set has been called to DC to work on a task force to make recommendations to the Sec of Defense regarding racial equity in the military.
I mostly listened, for over an hour to his perspective on the times and what a right response might look like.
I trust his opinion because he is a friend…but also because his unique perspective and experience give him what is to me a clearer view of what the real issues are and what real solutions might be…I think he is a good “reader of the times”
There are many experts out there purporting to be able to “read the times” (not the NY Times…but “what is happening in our time”) and to offer their advice on what we should think and do.
One problem is that the experts don’t agree…on much of anything…covid, racial issues, you name it.
The other problem is that since there is such disagreement by experts…people are often resorting to a thinking fallacy known as “Appeal to authority”
This is where we find an “expert” who agrees with our position and then use that expert to “prove” that we are right.
So…you can pretty much believe any and everything and find an expert of some kind to support your position.
Which doesn’t lead to good decision making.
Then there is the reality…that some issues are really about opinion and some are about absolutes for everyone…how do you know the difference?
In other words, some issues are more like “Do strawberries taste better than blueberries”
And there are issues that are about fundamental realities like gravity “Do people fall up or down?”
How do you know if what you are passionate about is in the berry or the gravity category?
For some…all things are in the gravity category…they are ready to fight over everything…all their opinions are absolute…and everyone must agree…including on the flavor of berries
To live well in the time where God has placed us requires wisdom to be able to “read” the times from a perspective that is fully biblical.
This is always been the case…but it is especially so during times like now…when tensions and issues are escalated…times of dangerous division.
God alone knows what will come of this time for our nation, our world.
But the future is way above our pay grade…we are responsible for our response to the times…we are responsible to live with wisdom in them.
To do that requires some ability to “read the times”…a situational awareness of what is really going on and how should I personally respond.
Doesn’t mean we will read the times perfectly…or that there will be no disagreement or confusion…but we can all grow in our wisdom and ability to read and respond.
It is about direction…growth…not perfection.
Growth in the ability to read the times requires a number of qualities like…humility, teachability, discernment…and courage.
It means we must consult experts…but when there are vastly different opinions among the experts…We won’t go fishing for those who agree with us.
But this can all be very confusing…and it cause anxiety at times…these are anxious times…for many reasons, not the least of which, is the wide disagreement among experts.
We would love to have someone just tell us what is true, real…and it’s frustrating when that doesn’t happen.
Early this spring I had two different doctors…both good men, both with positions of authority in the state…give me two different views on virtually the same thing.
So, we have to stay…humble and teachable…realize the limits of all human knowledge.
But, in the end…we must live, we must “do” some things…so we have to decide…what things to do…and how to live with and among people who come to different conclusions.
It means we must understand the difference between what the Bible would call “berries” and what it would call “gravity” issues…minor and major issues.
There are disputable or opinion matters and there are non-disputable or absolute matters.
Berries…you can have your opinions and convictions about what you personally think.
Gravity…you have to get this right…we all do.
In all of it…berries and gravity issues…love and grace must determine how we live with and respond to one another.
So…here’s our plan for this morning.
- Look at a tribe of Israel who were known for their ability to “read the times”…they had practical, actionable wisdom
- Look at Romans 14. Examine the difference between “berry and gravity” issues and how to respond accordingly.
- An application for becoming better at reading the times and responding appropriately.
- The tribe of Issachar…known for their SA.
Saul, Israel’s first King, technically died by suicide…he fell on his own sword so his enemies would not have their way with him.
That is the “how” he died, but not “why” he died.
The “why” he died is because he gave himself over to folly…he rejected God’s authority in his life.
“Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So, the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” 1 Chron. 10:13,14
He rejected the truth of God and when in a pinch (time of stress and confusion)…against all Scriptural directives…sought a medium (one who tries to contact the dead) for guidance…and did not inquire of the Lord.
This demonstrates how far into folly he had fallen…did not turn to God for guidance but to a medium.
*He was looking for someone to tell him what he wanted to hear.
So here we see a good measure of a wise person versus a fool…that measure is…”who do they trust? Who or what is their authority?”
Saul did not trust God or his word…and it ruined him.
So, David, Israel’s best king takes over.
Best, but not perfect.
Jesus is the world’s only perfect king.
Then the various tribes of Israel began to rally to David…and in chapter 12 the soldiers…men equipped and trained for battle who come under David’s command are listed.
That’s where we come to this unique and interesting verse.
1 Chron. 12:32
“(among those who rallied to David…where…) Men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do…”
-We won’t “read” too much into this single verse but it is interesting to ponder.
We don’t know exactly what is meant by “understood the times.”
But whatever it meant…it also meant they knew what the nation should do.
Maybe in context it was military/political…but at any rate it allowed them to be known as…Big R and Big A.
So, to “know the times and what to do” is more than a surface reading of headlines and tweets…this isn’t…
“The warriors of Issachar, working from home, surfing the web…tweeting out what should others should do.”
These are warriors…following a new king, in tumultuous times…out in combat zones…really people didn’t know who to trust…which side folks were on…dangerous, confusing times.
They could read these times…and they understood appropriate actions.
People often think they “know” something because they understand some of the data or facts about something…but that is surface knowledge.
“I know what is going on…I’ve read about it…I read a book, two books…wickipedia.”
Wisdom is knowing what is of real significance in the events of our times.
To know what forces, ideas, events are shaping us and how…and then…What to do with this reading of the times.
*Back to one of our theme verses: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” 9:10
To start anywhere other than with a healthy, life-shaping respect (fear) of God…is to take a path that will not lead to wisdom…an ability to read the times and respond well to them.
So, we must realize…we are small in power and wisdom at our best…God alone has perfect SA.
But, even so…with humility…knowing our limitations…we have to emerge from our cocoons and live our lives…we have to go and do things…hopefully good and wise things.
We want to be good readers and actors in our times…we want to get better at this…and we can.
Little r, big A…much of what you see in our cities…violence, damage.
Big R, little a…the complainers, the whiners, the sideliners
Big R, Big A…this is what this tribe of Issachar was known for…what we aspire to be.
Later, in Jewish writings it was said that wisest members of the national ruling council came from the tribe of Issachar…so their wisdom became the stuff of legend.
This was a large group of people over 60,000 soldiers.
Of course, they were not all equally good at reading the times…surely some of them were fools
But, as a whole…they had developed a reputation for being…wise readers and actors in their times and circumstances.
First step this morning…get a vision for this in our lives.
That this is not just for the various experts out there…this is a vision for you and for me.
I am not saying we should move towards thinking we are smarter than our doctor, or mechanic, or a friend who has more expertise and experience than we do in a certain area.
I have my ideas about social justice issues…but when I spoke to my friend in DC on Tuesday…I listened for an hour of the 1:10 we talked…I trust his opinion on the things we discussed more than I trust my own.
So, don’t see this as “becoming wise in your own eyes.”
Proverbs calls that kind of person a “fool”.
This is about humility of heart…coupled with a confidence in God’s word such that you can grow in your ability to read the times and respond with wisdom.
*That’s the vision…to become part of this tribe of Issachar…Big R, Big A…if fact that’s been the goal for this entire year in Proverbs.
But today we don’t go to Proverbs…let’s go to Romans 14
- Romans 14: how to respond with wisdom to one another on issues of “berries and gravity”
*Paul calls “berry” issues…disputable matters
As opposed to indisputable matters…gravity issues.
*Won’t do an in dept study of this passage…we have done so in the past.
I’ll read a few verses from this chapter then discuss the implications for becoming better readers and actors in our time.
1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters
The issues that were causing disagreement and division had to do not with the moral law(absolutes) but ceremonial laws…things like special days and diets.
These days and diets…had been in the past…important parts of separating God’s people from the surrounding cultures that were living outside of God’s will and ways.
But now, since Christ had come…his life, death, resurrection…rendered these things obsolete…unnecessary.
They are Ok…but not required.
All these special days, diets, and sacrifices had pointed to Jesus…and he had come.
However, some younger believers were struggling to come to grips with how this whole “faith/effort” “Grace/law” thing worked…and so they had strong convictions about what they should eat and what they should do on certain days.
Paul’s word to the church in Rome was…accept those with a weaker faith…don’t pass judgement on these disputables
Not that these issues were unimportant…but they are not issues important enough to press your view on others…don’t try to convince them to violate their own conscience.
12, 13 Each man will give an account of himself to God…so stop passing judgment and instead make up your mind to not put up a stumbling block for others.
14 Paul wrote…I’m convinced that no food is unclean(you know where he stands…and to whom he is writing)…but if someone’s conscience won’t allow them to eat…they should not eat…and I will be careful to not use my freedom as a barrier for others.
22 Come to personal convictions…but don’t try to convince everyone else…you live your conviction and let others live theirs.
STOP: Paul is talking specifically about minor issues, disputable matters (ceremonial days and diets)…he is not talking about major issues, absolutes.
He started this letter to the church at Rome with this…
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 1:16
The gospel itself is absolute…for everyone…no room for diversity of conviction on this.
There are absolutes and there are disputable matters (not unimportant…but not worth pressing)
Everyone has these categories in their minds…everyone has a worldview where they have divided reality into what is absolute true, bottom line…and what is less important.
Some say there are no absolutes…and to prove they cannot live with that view…you need only ask them “Are you absolutely sure.”
“Yes”…that is an absolute
“No”…then there are absolutes
Watch the news, listen to friends and co-workers…you will hear what is major and what is minor to them.
There is wide dispute over what is disputable and what is absolute.
We have spoken about what these kinds of things are for years…my point today is simply to say that we must be ready to take a costly stand on absolutes…and be ready to give grace on more minor issues…and we need the wisdom to know the difference between the two.
This is a complex point…and it requires thought and study and grace and courage and conversation…but again, today…I simply want to make the point.
Be ready to stand, no matter what happens…on issues of ultimate importance…don’t move…but make sure it is a biblical absolute….not a disputable you have made indisputable.
Be ready to stand down, when possible, for the good of others…on issues of less importance.
Don’t be ready to fight for everything.
Don’t be unwilling to fight for anything.
Wisdom informs which is which.
And whether it is absolute…or of less importance…there is never room for the follower of Christ…to act with hate and less than grace towards one another.
- Becoming better able to read and respond to the times
Saul lost his way and his life when he rejected the authority of God and God’s word and looked elsewhere for life direction…at various points in his life this meant…
-He trusted his own reason (even when it ran contrary to God’s clear will)
-Human Reason is trustworthy to a point, but unreliable as a true north.
-It can’t tell us the truth about ultimate things.
-He trusted his fears and emotions
-Instincts, emotions, even fears are reliable to a point and have their place, but
Cannot be followed absolutely without bringing us to ruin.
-The lowest point was when he rejected the clear word of the God…and sought to contact a dead person for direction.
-This was the bottom of his descent into madness
All this was about authority…who would he trust with his life?
To be able to read and respond to the times…we must settle the matter of authority in our lives.
Authority is the right, claim, fitness, the power to control and direct.
Commanders in the military have the authority to issue orders…lawful orders must be obeyed…even if following the order will result in your own death.
God is the supreme commander/authority of the cosmos…he made us to know, love and serve him.
His way of exercising authority over us is by means of the truth and the wisdom of his written Word.
So, God’s authority means that the Bible has the authority (as his word) to direct our beliefs and behaviors.
If you are unconvinced of the trustworthiness and authority of the Bible…please go become convinced.
-I am personally convinced by faith, by fact, by study, and by experience.
-I am convinced because Jesus was convinced…please become convinced yourself.
Because all ideas about God, self, life…the events of our times…must be measured, tested and when necessary corrected by biblical teaching.
All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable to teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. 2 Tim. 3:16
By saying, look to Scriptures to understand the times…I’m not talking about looking for end-times in the current events.
That is a distraction, always has been…Jesus said we are not to know the time of the end…and in fact all days since Jesus came…are the “last days”.
Look to the Scriptures to know what kinds of things you are seeing at in play in the world around you…
-How does human sin come into play here in what I am seeing on the news and in this grocery store?
-How is this related to people forming and following idols?
-How are the three enemies…sin, Satan, the world…at work in this?
-What has God been up to in the past in Scripture…what is he is up to still…what about right here, right now?
-How should I face this opposition, adversity, opportunity, this boredom, this stress…what do I find in the Bible that informs my choices?
-How should I treat people…friends, the church, strangers, enemies?
-What will it cost me to obey…to live with my convictions…and will I pay that price?
When I know the will of God in my life…will I obey it without hesitation…or will I shrink back in fear?
Settling the matter of authority…will not be the end of the journey…but there is no start of the journey without it…and if you get off this path.
The path of the settled of authority of God and his word…you have left the path of wisdom.
You will not be positioned to read and respond to the times with wisdom and grace.
To position yourself to be able to read the times and respond with wisdom…settle this in your heart.
“Jesus, the answer is ‘yes’…whatever the question you ask of me.”
If you are moving through life saying in your heart… “I may obey, it depends on what it might cost me….”
Then you are unlikely to live with clarity…unlikely to know how to accurately read the times and act in them with wisdom.
You are not positioned to experience God at work in and through you.
I don’t know…but I suspect Issachar’s leaders had their reputation for R/A because they had settled the issue of authority in their lives.
I do know this was the case for the Lord Jesus…and it will be the case for us…if we aspire to being better equipped to read and respond to our times…we must settle, and keep settling this authority issue.
Who is in charge…me or Jesus?
Who will I believe and obey?
Will I live with courage of conviction on absolutes…whatever the cost?
Will I live with grace and patience on disputables…putting the interests of others ahead of mine?
Will I have the wisdom to know the difference?