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Grace Notes

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THE COLLEGE OF WISDOM
by Philip Owen

Most people would probably prefer to be wise rather than foolish.  But many of us are loathe to enroll in the College of Wisdom because the curriculum is sometimes rigorous.  The fifteenth chapter of Proverbs describes four major courses required for graduation from the College of Wisdom.  “The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.  He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul:  but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility” (vv. 31-33).  Enroll today and take the following courses if you wish to graduate with a degree in wisdom.

Fearing the Lord  101.  Though not listed first in our text, we know from elsewhere in Proverbs that this is the first course in the wisdom curriculum.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pro. 9:10).  It is impossible to matriculate in the College of Wisdom without having fulfilled this prerequisite of fearing the Lord, or possessing a saving faith in Christ Jesus.  Without the presence of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we have no capacity to receive wisdom.  As Charles Bishop observed, “By nature we are unteachable, neither knowing, nor caring to know.”  But having been saved, we have much to learn through continued and constant fear, or reverential trust.  The mindset and heart attitude must be one of reverence for God and respect for His Word, of implicit trust in Him and obedience to His commands.

Humility 201.  This course teaches that the key to success in the College of Wisdom is not intellectual prowess nor superior scholarship, but humility (“condescension,” “modesty”).  We may all successfully pass this course, regardless of our academic ability, if we will bow in heart, mind, and will to the Lord.  In other words, this course reveals that knowledge alone is not the equivalent of wisdom.  True wisdom that honors God and blesses others and ourselves results from submitting to what we have been privileged to learn.  Surrendering the will enables us both to hear reproof and to receive instruction.     

Hearing Reproof 301.  Of the twenty-nine occurrences of the Hebrew noun translated reproof/s; seventeen occur in Proverbs.  Such repetition underscores the value of reproof (meaning:  “correction,” “refutation”) for the person who wishes to be wise.  While it is true that everyone is subject to reproof (both verbally and the kind produced by the circumstances of life), our text emphasizes that wisdom comes from those who hear it.  The hearing that is required if we would be wise is not ultimately auditory.  It may begin with our ears, but the truth must penetrate our hearts and minds, change our wills, and direct our actions.  We must acknowledge by “corrected” lives that our erroneous beliefs and sinful behavior have been “refuted.”

Receiving Instruction 401.  Our text announces that “He that refuseth instruction [“chastening,” “instruction,” NASB:  “discipline”] despiseth his own soul.”  Significantly, the Hebrew verb translated refuseth is not as strong as our English translation suggests.  The action anticipated is not so aggressive as outright denial or rejection; instead, it means simply to “neglect.”  The same word is translated avoid in Proverbs 4:15.  It is not said that the overtly rebellious despise their souls, but those who merely avoid receiving instruction or neglect what they have been compelled to hear.  Life is dangerous and the carnal nature deadly.  The Lord graciously provides instructions in the Owners’ Manual of Life so that we might know how to live properly.  Only a fool who despises his soul neglects such valuable information; the wise welcome godly biblical instruction and follow it.

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