Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Poverty of spirit

How Can I Become Wise?

One of the greatest questions I think any young Christian (whether young as a person or young as a Christian–or both!) can ask is this: How can I become wise?

To say that the Scriptures speak highly of wisdom is an understatement indeed (see here for just one example). So how does one attain it?

Here is a very incomplete list. I compiled it a little while ago when reading through the book of Proverbs. I wanted to take note of everywhere the book gave instructions on how to become wise.

The funny thing about wisdom is that it’s not just attained by anyone. It begins with a humble heart and is wrought in us only as we diligently and continually look for it.

Wisdom, in the biblical sense, speaks more of the ability to skilfully live a godly life in a fallen world than it does to the mere amassing of knowledge. To be wise is to be blessed: a life that is approved by God is a happy life indeed (in the truest sense of happiness).

So how does one become wise? Here’s my (ever-growing) list. Feel free to make any additions from verses I’ve missed!

How Can I Become Wise?

Prov 10 8 The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Prov 10 17 Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.

Prov 11 2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

Prov 12 1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Prov 12 15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Prov 13 1 A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

Prov 13 10 By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.

Prov 13 13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.

Prov 13 14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

Prov 13 18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honoured.

Prov 13 20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Prov 13 24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

Prov 14 15 The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Prov 15 5 A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.

Prov 15 10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

Prov 15 12 A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.

Prov 15 31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.

Prov 15 32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

Prov 17 10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

Prov 18 2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Prov 18 15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

Prov 19 20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Prov 19 25 Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.

Prov 20 18 Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.

Prov 23 12 Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.

Prov 24 6 for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counsellors there is victory.

Prov 25 12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Prov 27 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Prov 27 9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

Prov 28 9 If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

Prov 28 23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favour than he who flatters with his tongue.

Prov 28 26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

Prov 29 1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

Prov 29 5 A man who flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet.

Prov 29 15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Prov 29 17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

If you want, you can download a pdf version of this list to print or for further mediation here.

For more thoughts on the connections between humility and wisdom, you can download a sermon I preached a while ago, called ‘From Poverty of Spirit to Riches of Wisdom.

Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit – 5

I guess, technically, my last post on ‘poverty of spirit’ was here, but I’ve since posted on humility here and here as well.

As we’ve seen in the other posts, there are many things which can cause us to lose our poverty of spirit and to become proud. Sometimes we lose sight of who God really is, which means that we lose our absolute standard by which we are judged, and therefore, humbled. We begin to compare ourselves against other men (Rom 2.1-5), rather than against the holy law (Rom 3.19-20) of God and the glory of God (Rom 3.21-23)–God’s standards of judgment.

So what else causes Christians to lose this one characteristic which is the entrance-way to the kingdom of Christ (Mt 5.3)?

I would suggest that as North American evangelicals we don’t spend enough time considering our sin. When we don’t consider it, we don’t recognize its seriousness. When we don’t recognize how serious it is, or how evil our hearts which produce such sin are, we don’t confess our sin. When we don’t confess our sin and beg for mercy we quickly become proud.

We would do well to take our cues from David. Few followers of God have been as passionate and had their lives and hearts exposed quite as much as David. Many of us have fallen into sin, but few of us have had it exposed in public and written down for all generations to remember like David.

You’ll remember that in 2 Sam 11 David sins, and then in the next chapter, is exposed and rebuked by Nathan. When Nathan comes to speak to David about his sin, he tells David there will be consequences for his sin. Here’s the part we sometimes forget, though: Nathan says, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’ In other words, God has already shown mercy to David; his sin is forgiven and he will not be judged because of it.

This is important because it happens before the confession of sin that we read in Psalm 51. David, having heard from the prophet that his sins have been ‘put away’, now prays a prayer of confession and repentence, begging and pleading with God for mercy. He begins his prayer this way:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love,
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 

Sometimes we read this and on account of our familiarity we don’t stop to think about it. David, as king, would be familiar with the process of begging one in authority for mercy–people would come to him often for that very reason. When one came to a king to beg for mercy, what would their posture be? How would they present themselves to the king? What would be their general demeanour? To be sure, it would be one of brokenness and utter dependence. They would fall prostrate before the one who held their lives in his hands. They recognized that whether they lived or died, were forgiven or condemned was entirely up to him–their life was not under their control any longer.

How often do we come to God in confession and brokenness like this? Why don’t we? One reason why we don’t is that too often we presume on God’s grace. We think that because we are told in Scripture that our sins are forgiven in Christ, there is no longer any need for us to come to God in this sort of contrition–we forget that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God who is a consuming fire! We forget that David, who had specifically been told he sins had been put away, still took the time to come to God in brokenness and contrition and recognize his shortcomings.

Another reason we don’t come to God in confession like this is that we forget our sins are against God. We, like David, commit sins against other people, and so we think we should confess and apologize to them, giving little thought to the fact that our sin has been offence to the very person and dignity of God.

Ps 51.4 says, ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.’ Has that verse ever puzzled you? David had been unsatisfied with all his other wives, committed adultery against Bathsheba and made her to commit adultery, stolen the wife of Uriah, and then murdered Uriah, forcing Joab to become an accomplice; this is all to say nothing of the whole nation of Israel that David was letting down as he was the supposed leader of God’s people. The list of people that David had sinned against are endless here. Where would David get this crazy idea that he had sinned against God and God alone?

He got the idea from God himself.

Back in 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan originally confronts David about his sin, he speaks the word of God to David, saying, ‘Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ And just in case David didn’t catch it the first time, Nathan repeats it a few verses later: ‘Because, by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’ The point that God is stressing through his prophet is that ultimately when we sin we choose to reject God.

God has promised us pure pleasure and ultimate joy in him, but we reject him and his offer when we choose the fleeting pleasures of sin. We distrust him. We belittle his promises of great grace and everlasting, soul-satisfying joy in fellowship with him. David had heard the promises of God, but instead chose a few days of pleasure with a woman who was forbidden to him. The whole lie of sin is that the joy we find in it is better than the joy that can be found in God.

But that is a lie. It is a lie from Satan who is the father of all lies. When we sin we outright reject God and by our actions say to him that we prefer whatever pleasure we can find in sin to anything good we see in him.

David understood this, but I think we have in large part forgotten it today. We forget that sin is an offence against God. It is an insult to him. We mock him. No wonder David was so quick to confess. No wonder he fell on his face before his God and begged with him for mercy and grace.

We ought to do the same. Ultimately, recognizing who our sin is against–and refusing to presume on his grace–will lead to great recognition of the seriousness of our sin, which will lead to more confession of sin. Confession of sin leads to brokenness of heart. Brokenness of heart and recognition of guilt are essential to maintaining a poverty of spirit that God blesses.

From Poverty of Spirit to Riches of Wisdom

I have had the privelege of filling the pulpit at Grace Fellowship Church for the past few weeks while ‘the preacher‘ (aka kerux) was away on vacation. The past two Sunday nights I tried to draw some more practical thoughts together with regards to poverty of spirit (see here, here, here, and here for the series I started, and to which I hope to return shortly).

This message’s title was ‘From Poverty of Spirit to Riches of Wisdom.’ The basic premise is that if we are broken before God, we will be humble before others (poverty of spirit) and that this will result in true life change (ie. wisdom: the ability to live skillfully, in a way that pleases God in the midst of a fallen world). In order to live wisely, we must be humble.

Here’s the outline:

  1. Humility allows us to gain wisdom (verses)
  2. Humility make us able to take reproof / correction (verses)
  3. Humility leads us to avoid temptation (verses)
  4. Humility leads to less talking and therefore less sin (verses)
  5. Humility makes it easier to admit guilt & need for reconciliation (verses)
  6. Humility gives ability to be content with less (verses)
  7. The humble one aligns himself with the Lord (verses)
  8. Humility allows us to treat all others fairly (verses)
  9. Humility gives us ability to accept what comes in life (verses)
  10. Humility allows us to have genuine, godly friendships (verses)

Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit – 4

See parts 1, 2, and 3.

We lose poverty of spirit because we lose sight of God. Once we lose sight of God it is easy to lose sight of how far short of his standard we really fall–we forget what we were when we were called. But someone might say, ‘but I was never an adulterer or a thief; I never killed and rarely lied. I know that I fell short, but not nearly so bad as most others.’

As far as I can tell, this one has missed the point in no less than three ways. The first is the simple truth that all are compared to God, since he is the ultimate standard. If you are truly comparing yourself against the real standard, what does it matter if you’re not bad as another man? You still fall short!

The second is that it assumes that you were already as bad as you were going to get. Sometimes we forget the pattern of sin is not a straight line. The crackhead doesn’t start out on crack. The sex-offender doesn’t start out by raping. Sin always progresses, it is never satisfied, it always wants more.

John Owen used the image of a muddy field. The first time you start walking on the field you won’t get very far… your boots get stuck. But the next time you walk out, that mud is already trampled down, so it’s easier to get at least as far–you get to the same spot quicker. But since it was easier for you to get there, you can keep going. Each time you walk out into the field you automatically start from the spot where you left off. The first time the crackhead smoked pot it was a big deal. Now he can’t get through a day without it.

Paul described false teachers in the church this way too. They never start out as bad as they end up and they’re never as bad as they will get. They continue on, going from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

So… in the midst of all this, what would ever make me think that I was as bad when God saved me as I would ever get? What is there to make me think that I wouldn’t keep getting worse? All the evidence seems to suggest that I would continue on in my sin, diving further and further into fleshly desires.

So let no one say, ‘I never did this or that,’ because you very well may have if God had not saved you when he had. Which leads to the third way in which these ones miss the point when we say that all have fallen short and none has reason to be proud over another.

The third way that this statement misses the point is that it assumes that it was your goodness which held you back from being as sinful as any other man. The only reason that one could possibly have to be proud and say that he is not as bad as the next is if he had some good in him which another did not which enabled him to resist sin.

But Scripture does not put things in these terms. The process of becoming more and more depraved is described in Romans 1. There we are told that man continually suppresses the truth of the righteousness of God in his unrighteousness. He longs for sin in increasing measure. God’s wrath on man on this world is revealed through his giving men over into more and more sin. See the picture? Who do the Scriptures place as sovereign over the sins of man? Not man, but God.

Again, there are similary frightening verses in Romans 9 (here in particular). Here we are told that God, in his sovereignty, is the determining factor in man’s acceptance or rejection of him. So God is sovereign over the sins of the unregenerate, and sovereign over the salvation of all. Where then is our reason for boasting?

Paul draws the same conclusions in Romans 12. Here he says that there must not be a single Christian in the church who thinks more highly of himself than he ought. Well, how highly ought he to think of himself? Only according to the faith he has received.

Did you catch that?

The faith he has received.

Our only reason for boasting is our faith in Christ, and that was a gift that was given to him by God, not something that he did for himself or earned for himself. Outisde of Christ we have nothing to boast of, and once in Christ we have only Christ to boast of. Let us then seek to be more and more humble, counting others as better than ourselves.

Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit – 3

See parts 1 and 2.

So what causes Christians to lose their ‘poverty of spirit’? Losing sight of the God we say we worship is the main cause. But part and parcel with that comes losing sight of who we are and what we are really like. When we forget God, who is the ultimate standard of all things, what can we measure ourselves by? We proudly and arbitrarily draw flattering standards against which we can measure up well.

One way in which we fail to measure ourselves accurately is by forgetting what we were. Sometimes, the longer we live as Christians, we forget the way we were before we were saved. Paul plainly states in 1 Corinthians that the church there was made up of ex adulterers, idolaters, homosexuals, thieves, revilers, swindlers, etc. I somehow doubt that any church drawn from our society today would look a whole lot different.

The fact is that the Christians who make up a church are Christians who sinned in every way that those in the world around us sin. The only difference is what God has done in us. That’s what Paul says: ‘But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ Catch that? It was all done to us, not stuff that we’ve done to make ourselves better than anyone.

It’s easy to forget that… but we must never forget that! We must never forget that we were all these things when we were ‘purchased at a price.’ We must never forget that it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.

In fact, earlier on in the same letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them to make sure they remembered what they were before they were Christians. He basically says in chapter 1 that they should remember that not many of them were the wise, noble, rich, influential, etc. God chose them because they were the foolish, the weak, the poor, the shameful. He chose these ones so that his power could be shown as even his foolishness shames the wisdom of this world.

We need to remember what we were before we were saved: what my passions and desires were, how I loved my sin, how I pursued my sin and hated God with my actions. When we remember that we were idolaters and adulterers and greedy thieving swindlers hording worldly possessions it becomes that much harder to exalt ourselves over others who are guilty of the same sins, whether or not they’ve repented of them.

Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit – 2

So how could it be that Christians would become proud? Having started with nothing, how could receiving freely give us reason to boast? It seems that pride is the sneakiest of all sins, working from the core of the heart, seeking any opportunity to morph and reappear undetected.

I think the first step in losing poverty of spirit is losing sight of who God is and what he demands.

The two most famous theophanies seem to be Moses on Sinai and Isaiah’s vision in the year that Uzziah died. With everything in me, try as I might, I can’t imagine a way that a person could remain proud in those circumstances. Even Moses, with whom God would speak(!) could not see him or else he would die.

In Isaiah’s vision even the creatures around Jesus’ throne could not look upon him, but were forced to cover both their faces and their feet. When Christians fail to recognize that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God who is a consuming fire, we cease to lose touch with the God of the Bible. When we forget that we ought rightly to be afraid of him, we are venturing toward pride.

But not only do we need to remember who God is, but we also need to remember what he demands of us. Throughout the Old Testament God thundered down the Law and declared through the prophets, ‘Be holy, as I am holy! It startles me to think that we as Christians can be so easy on our sin when we read this. Do we not realize what it says? And it is not merely an ‘Old Testament’ thing, either! Jesus declares that we must ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

In other words, the standard is God. Now, if you haven’t rightly evaluated who God is, that’s not that big of a deal. But if you have truly seen the God of the Bible for who he is, and then have realized that he himself is the standard, then you realize quite quickly why exactly Isaiah cried out ‘woe is me!’ and why Paul could so brazenly say ‘all have fallen short of the glory of God’ because all have broken the law. The law is not the standard… the law bears witness to the standard, but the standard is God himself!

I may think that I measure up okay in my Christian life… I don’t sin openly. I’ve read more books than other Christians (and better books too!). I go to church all the time, I teach Sunday school, all my friends are Christians… But in reality, how I measure up against other Christians is never, ever used as a realistic standard by which we ought to measure ourselves.

If we evaluate ourselves against others around us we might think we’re doing alright. In reality, however, we ought to be measuring ourselves against God, because he is what he demands from us, and nothing less.

Honestly comparing ourselves to the God of the Bible should produce poverty of Spirit where nothing else will. Once again, our greatest need is to turn to the word of God, to behold God, to know him for who he is. Only that will make us who and what we need to be.

Some Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

With these words our Lord’s ministry began in earnest. The long-awaited promised one brings the fulfilment of all that was foreshadowed in the Law and the Prophets in his person and his kingdom, and these are those to whom his kingdom belongs: those who are poor in spirit.

In the plainest sense poverty of spirit is simply the heart of contrition and repentance that God has always required from his people (a few examples). God has always declared that he would dwell with the humble and cast out the presumptuous and haughty, those who think that they have no need of God: Christ did not even come for those who don’t need a physician.

So first and foremost, to have any part in the kingdom (saving reign) of God (in Christ) we must recognize that he is holy, and that we are sinners without a plea before him. We deserve nothing from him, plain and simple, but come to him fully knowing that it would be good and right of him to damn me to hell. He would be just and good and righteous and glorified to send me to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, to the Gehenna of fire, where the worm is never satisfied.

But this is nothing new, of course. If you’re a Christian, you’ve already been here and known this to be true in your own heart. So why doesn’t it last? How could it be that having come through the front door of utter humility and contrition we now think it appropriate to dwell in the room of luxurious pride and haughtiness of thought? What would possibly cause a Christian to ever think of himself as better than anyone else?

It seems that the nature of the gospel which Christ brings is such that pride in a Christian should be an impossibility. It begins with humility, continues in self-sacrificing love, and concludes with eternal praise–it is never about self; not for a moment.

Over the next couple of posts I hope to put forward a few thoughts about poverty of spirit: Why Christians lose it and how to further affect it.

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