Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – 1. What is Wisdom?

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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We’re going to think this week about preaching wisdom literature. It’s a big subject, so let’s pitch right in and ask, how can we improve our preaching of this important genre? Firstly…

1. …Understand what wisdom is.

What exactly is biblical wisdom? Perhaps the easiest way to answer this question, is to look at a passage – not in one of the wisdom books ironically – but a very important narrative in 1 Kings 12. Solomon, the archetypal wise king, has died and his son Rehoboam is taking the throne. The people of Israel come to him and say “Your Dad laid a heavy burden on us in taxes and so on, so lighten it for us.” What is Rehoboam going to do?

He starts well – he gets counsel. First, he listens to his father Solomon’s old advisers. They tell him “Do as the people say and they will serve you totally.” Next he takes counsel from his old school buddies, and they tell him that he needs to stamp his authority on this people, make a statement, show them that he is not to messed with. “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thigh… he disciplined you with whips, I will discipline you with scorpions.” That ought to do it – that’ll show them who’s boss. So who is Rehoboam going to listen to? – And here’s the point, because for a Hebrew reader, this decision has “wisdom” and “folly” written all over it. Solomon’s counsellors are older, they are experienced in helping to run a country, they have spent a lot of time with wise King Solomon and they would have learned from his wisdom. Rehoboam’s old school pals are young, have no experience of running a kingdom, and not much experience of life, either. To the Hebrew mind, it’s a ‘no-brainer’. A wise man is going to listen to the wise old counsellors and the foolish man is going to listen to the foolish young counsellors. Which will Rehoboam do? Will he show himself to be wise or foolish? I’m sure you know, and the rest as they say, is history.

And this is invaluable to us in understanding biblical wisdom. For us Westerners especially, when we think of wisdom our minds go very quickly to intelligence. We tend to think that the cleverer, the more educated a person is, the wiser he/she will be. But that is a Western idea, not a particularly biblical one. I imagine that Rehoboam’s young counsellors had a good education, but they were still foolish by way of their youth and inexperience. Many of us live in a culture which is obsessed with the idol of youth. We are drawn to young people with new, fresh ideas. But again that is a Western idea, not an expecially biblical one. In biblical cultures, older people were held with higher regard than younger people because of their years, their experience and hence their relative wisdom. Of course there are exceptions – you will find foolish old people and wise young people in the Bible – Solomon himself, as a young king recognised his need for wisdom and asked God for it – and that’s a big theme in Proverbs for example, of enabling the young to get wisdom. So let’s understand what wisdom is – it is not intelligence, education or information. Wisdom is the knowledge of God and how to live in His world. 

And tomorrow we’ll actually look at some of the wisdom books. I promise.

7 Reasons to Preach A Lesser Known Book

Most preachers do what most Christians do.  They tend to stay in the familiar books of the Bible.  The gospels, the epistles, and maybe some Psalms or well-known Old Testament narratives.  But what about Nahum, Obadiah or Joel?  What about Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, or even 2nd John or Jude?  Here are 7 reasons to select a lesser known book for your next sermon or series.

1. It will be fresh for the listeners. They may be feeling full of your usual fare, so a trip into uncharted territory will be a refreshing and invigorating experience (as long as you preach well!)

2. It will be fresh for you. Ditto.  You will find that once into the study, you’ll be so grateful that you took the plunge into another part of the canon.

3. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful. This means that you won’t come across a chunk of text that is of no value to you and your listeners.  It’s all God’s Word and it is all applicationally useful in our lives.

4. It will reinforce to listeners that they can profitably spend time in the whole canon. They will see that the lesser known books are of great value in filling out our understanding of God, seeing how His people are to respond to Him, etc.

5. Moving into a different genre stimulates variety in your preaching. A different genre provides different forms and rhetorical features.  You’ll enjoy the possibilities if you consider the many ways to preach wisdom literature or a prophet.  Let the type of writing influence your type of preaching.  Seek to do what it does, as well as say what it says.

6. It will inform your future preaching of the more familiar books. Typically lesser known books are further back in our Bibles.  Once you have spent time in these books, you’ll have a greater sense of the informing theology of the later and better known New Testament books.

7. It will force you to truly prepare. Be honest, you could probably preach a series in Ephesians or Romans without having to break a sweat (although the series would be better if you did).  But I’d wager that Joel or Nahum might put you to work from scratch (and to pray accordingly!)