"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:7 KJV)
Each time I read this verse, I have to readjust my thinking. It has always seemed to me that the fear of God should proceed from knowledge, instead of the other way around; however, the starting point for knowledge originates in the condition of the heart. Without regeneration there can be no affectionate reverence which bends the child of God toward obedient fear. The heart must be dealt with before there can be any profitable knowledge. Fools, who have no fear of God, despise wisdom because they have not had the transformation of heart that is necessary to receive what they need most. That is why they are fools! "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17 KJV). "The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Ps. 25:14 NAS).
We are to be in the fear of the Lord all day long (Prov. 23:17). We fear Him when He is our primary consideration, our first thought and backdrop to everyday living. Like the child who is consumed with obeying and pleasing another, we should be absorbed with loving and pleasing God. Our hearts should be open to reverently conforming our wills to His will, relishing and delighting in His wisdom. Instead of setting other people before our face, either ascribing greatness to them or dreading their presence, we should let God be our fear and our dread (Isa. 8:13).
As regenerated Christians, God has given us the wherewithal to obediently fear Him. While we now have His new nature living in us, we also have the presence of the old nature at war within our breast. What are we to do? God's word says we are to trust in Him who works in us to desire and perform His good pleasure (Phil.2:13). Christ's provisioned way, truth and life, is the bridge from our depravity to His sufficiency! This is the amazing process of sanctification.
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17 KJV). The object of faith is the truth of God. If we do not read His Word, we will not be acquainted with His wisdom and will have nothing on which to fasten our faith. When bad things happen to us, we may be tossed about by ungodly counsel, unless we have God's stable, dependable Word to give us a clear light for our path. In it we find wisdom for living that is never out-of-date. His compassions are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). When we obey God's Word, we have the peaceful work of righteousness, which results in quietness and assurance (Isa. 32:17).
When we were growing up we understood more about our parent's requirement for obedience than perhaps we cared to admit. We did not have to ask what to do about every thing; we just knew. Perhaps your parents, like mine, said to you, "You know better than to do that," which meant the overall training and understanding of what they desired was sufficient for our obedience without them having to stand over us, directing us with "do's and don'ts." We knew our parents wanted us to practice safety, and that was enough for us to know we were not to speed on curvy roads or jump off the cliffs into the lake. It is much the same way with God. When we read the Scriptures we come to know Him, who He is and what He demands. We know Him through His historic dealings with the great cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us. We see how He corrects through judgment and upholds and sustains everything by His sovereign hand. The more our hearts are turned toward obedience to the Holy Spirit's leading, the greater our understanding of His particular and overall will.
Reading His Word gives us the wisdom we need. While we may know certain verses throughout the Scripture, it is important that we have understanding of the overall general equity or procedural meaning of the Scriptures as a whole. The complete reading of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation acquaints us with God's character and overall purpose, helping us to understand the context, which ties individual verses together. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, "The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deducted from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men."1
We recently hired painters to touch-up the trim in the interior of our home. They were asked not to wear their shoes in the house, since new carpet had just been installed. I looked out the window and saw them standing in the street, leaning against their pick-up truck with only their socks on! They had obviously missed the general equity of our request, understanding the detail but ignorant of the principle meaning.
Natural or general revelation is the way God constantly and universally reveals Himself to all mankind through His created order. This information goes all the way back to the beginning of human history. It is wisdom that was not, nor is not, masked or obscured, but clear and understandable, even to the unregenerate man and woman. What does the unregenerate continue to do with this wisdom? The first chapter of Romans says they continually hate God and suppress the truth because of their unrighteousness. They spend their lives seeking to subvert truths clearly know in their hearts about God, worshiping the creature and creation rather than the Creator. Their efforts are dedicated to changing the incorruptible glory of God into lawlessness — breaking the law of God any way they can. They set themselves up as gods, claiming to be self-sufficient; professing to be wise, they become fools (Rom. 1:22). And what does God do? Does He sit in the heavens wringing His hands because of their disobedience? No, He has given them up to their heart's lusts and uncleanness to do exactly what they want to do (Rom. 1:24, 26). Are they outside God's control? No, not at all! No person or circumstance is ever outside the control of God. Does God have the glory when His creatures are disobedient? Yes, absolutely! By Him all things exist for His own glory. His righteous wrath and justice upon His creatures glorifies our Creator.
God has given us special revelation in addition to His natural revelation. His special, supernatural revelation — His laws, external ordinances, miracles, types and shadows — was first given to the Jews. These were not separate sets of morals, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. They were one set communicated to all mankind in two ways: natural or general revelation, which is communicated to us through nature, and special revelation, which is communicated to us through the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.
"In His supernatural revelation He republished the truths of natural revelation, cleared them of misconception, interpreted them with a view to the present needs of man, and thus incorporated them in His supernatural revelation of redemption. And in addition to that, He provided a cure for the spiritual blindness of man in the work of regeneration and sanctification, including spiritual illumination, and thus enabled man once more to obtain true knowledge of God, the knowledge that carries with it the assurance of eternal life."2 God's special revelation of His Word — is ours today in fullness and completion, along with His internal revelation to our hearts and conscience. This revelation is wholly sufficient for our understanding of how we may glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
What have we done with the truths of God? We have hidden, ignored, and denied them. We have stiffened our necks against their correction (Jer. 17:23). The modern Christian considers God's wisdom secondary and out-of-date, while the non-Christian wants no part of God's wisdom. Both the Christian and the non-Christian succumb to two heathen ideas: the Scripture is not necessary in governing the daily affairs of life, and persons who depend solely upon the Scriptures are mentally weak.
Christianity is limited to the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. This is secularism. In our society there is an unconscious line drawn between the spiritual and the secular. The icing is spiritual, and the cake is secular. Secular is viewed as neutral, being outside the realm of God's law. Spiritual is limited to the church, its activities, and the Christian's inner victories. In that context, how can our spiritual lives be prosperous when our secular lives are scarcely influenced by God's truths? Secularism chooses man over God, humanism over Biblical practices. It is the heresy that consumes us. Our schools are indoctrinating our children against God, our politicians are endorsing pluralism that supports and honors all religions, and many churches are cowardly endorsing tolerance and benevolent neutrality.
We have a disgusting, silenced opinion that political leaders should be broad-minded, unbiased, and free to constitute right and wrong without God's "narrow" regulations. We want them to trust in God, but ignore His standards. We think our leaders would be neglecting something very important were they to use the Bible in all the affairs of government. We want them to be honest and accountable for their public's trust, and that is about as far as it goes! To justify our relativity games we play the "separation of church and state" trump card, with equal vehemence as "we are no longer under law but under grace," or "judge not" — three misapplied religious mainstays! If God's Word is not the ethical standard, then whose ethics should we use? We elect civil leaders who think like we do. It was we, the over 21 crowd, who elected, among other ungodly leaders, Bill Clinton, the Saul of the day, who ravished our homes and our used-to-be Christian nation. And we wonder how our society ever gravitated downward to such tyrannical wickedness in the day-to-day affairs of living?
Church members profoundly lack basic direction and discernment, because many churches have reduced God's wisdom to a few spiritualized verses on Sunday, with no "harsh & boring" doctrine. The trumpet call from most pulpits is scarcely clear about anything. Those in the pew have more questions than answers, with little consensus even among regular churchgoers. The apostasy God warned us about is at our door. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim.4:4 KJV). Is there something wrong with this picture? We were warned, and yet, because of our arrogant rebellion, we did little to stem the tide! I love the next verse: "But you be watchful in all things, endure affliction, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry"(2 Tim.4:5 NKJ). The word but is a change in the circumstances, a pivotal point of faith. Things may be bad but they do not have to affect our individual steadfastness. Note: Paul's admonition to young Timothy has general equity for us. We as women are not called to minister in a church pulpit; but, we are called to evangelize and minister in the day-to-day routine within our homes and in those activities that flow outwardly for the glory of God (Matt. 28:19-20).
There are many enemies to fearing God and applying His wisdom in all facets of the Christian life. The privatization of Christianity is one of the most damnable heresies of all times. It is sad that the church, in general, has determined that most of life is outside the jurisdiction of God's entire law-word. While most churches strive to win the lost and encourage the hearts of Christians, they limit Christian responsibility, for the most part, only to what Christians believe. Does I Cor.15:58 really mean that we should be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord in every place? The lack of direct and applicable teaching from the church leads us to conclude that we are to always abound in God's work spiritually, but not actually! We would not want to abound too much in God's work while serving on jury duty or the county road commission. Certain occupations might not be conducive to abounding in every work of the Lord. This is privatism. "This is the heresy, often parading under a Christian banner, which limits religion only to belief. 'You may believe what you will; just don't take your religion too seriously.' In the church, this heresy has scuttled the full-orbed Faith of our fathers and reduced it to emotional Sunday entertainment 'services' and weekday devotional 'quiet times.'"3 Christianity has become a very private matter and an emotional experience. And we wonder what has happened to our nation and the Christian culture once enjoyed by our grandparents and generations before them?
"We cannot limit Christian theology to church life without denying it."4 No wonder God's word says that judgment must begin at the house of God (I Peter 4:17). We strengthen our resolve against truth when we revel in reasoning apart from divine revelation. "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Is. 4:20 NAS)! Wisdom is that of which God is the only source, the essence. We are wise in understanding only if we fear God in our hearts and obey Him in our actions. "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them (emphasis added) in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people' " (Deut. 4:5-7 NKJ). "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does (emphasis added) the will of My Father in heaven" (Matt. 7:21 NKJ). Works do not save us, but if we have Salvation and do not have works, our faith is dead (James 2:17). We are, by faith, to get out there and take dominion over every facet of society and make a difference in our Father's world (Gen. 1:16; Ps. 8:6; Matt. 28:19-20). No, despite popular opinion, this world does not belong to the Devil (1 Cor. 10:26). We are to be about the extension of our Father's kingdom in such a godly manner that our humanist society could say, "Look at those wise and understanding Christians" (Deut. 4:7).
Relativism is another enemy to fearing God and walking in His wisdom. It is the reasoning that has been around for years: that truth is not absolute, but dependent upon the situation and persons involved. What may be wrong for one person may not be wrong for another. Everything is relative and ethically up for grabs. Things are different in different circumstances. We criticize those who draw a black and white, hard and fast line. If there are no absolutes, there can be no right and wrong. We have become conceited and high-minded, and the fear of God is not before our faces (Rom. 11:20). We think we must possess total knowledge before an adequate and fair critique can be made about anything. Who are we to think that we can determine "adequate" and "fair" apart from God's wisdom? We have set ourselves up as the sole determiner of right and wrong. If everything is relative, everything is meaningless.
Relativism is not just a problem in the minds of a few, it is an all-out-crisis in our culture. The fish at our local grocery is said to be fresh, but what does "fresh" mean? The ethical standard of the storeowner may be based more upon his billfold than his Bible, or upon the situational outcome of your eating the fish. If we do not use God's standard for anything and everything, who is to say the storeowners standard is ethically right or wrong?
We deny that God's justice is absolute and unchanging. We think God operates by a different standard for Somalia than for America. We imagine a god that has varying laws of justice from nation to nation, culture to culture, individual to individual. This is cultural relativism. When a Hindu is offended by Christian ethics in the marketplace of America, we rush to apologize and obliterate what few Christian freedoms we have left, lowering them to their lowest standard. It is as if pagan rebellion against God is nothing more than exercising a preference for either vanilla or chocolate ice cream! If God's commandments are not universally relevant to everyone, everywhere, then what ethical standards are relevant? Is not the grace of law applicable for every nation? Is there any corner of the world not under God's standard?
Moral and religious values are passing away before our eyes. From the living room to the classroom, our culture thinks it is okay to give equal time to other gods. We are tolerant of every view except God's view. Nothing is absolute. Society is out there, blowing in the wind. No wonder we have become a floundering generation, trying to affix ourselves to something that "sounds good" and "feels good," something that satisfies the deep cravings of our hearts. "The word of the Lord is the sole supreme and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life; this word naturally includes God's moral directives (law)."5
We have quarantined the Scriptures, refused God's counsel and despised His reproofs. We have hated God's wisdom and held it in derision because our hearts do not fear Him. If we do not fear Him we cannot be His servants (Gal. 1:10). Indeed we will not want to be His servants for we will only be interested in serving ourselves.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord.
They would not accept my counsel,
They spurned all my reproof.
So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way
And be satiated with their own devices.
For the waywardness of the naïve will kill them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them.
But he who listens to me shall live securelyAnd will be at ease from the dread of evil. (Prov. 1:29-33 NAS)
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
And to depart from evil is understanding. (Job 28:28 NKJ)
1. G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, p.9.
2. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p.38.
3. Mark R. Rushdoony and P. Andrew Sandlin, " Chalcedon Report" Feb. 2002, #438, p. 4, 5.
4. R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, vol.3, p. ix.
5. Greg L. Bahnsen, No other Standard, p.12.
- Ina Manly Painter
Ina Manly Painter has a Master of Science Degree in Educational/Counseling Psychology. She and her husband, Harrison, live in Knoxville , TN , where they have been affiliated with Re/Max Preferred Properties as REALTORS, for many years. They have four children, Paige, and wife Christa, Laura, Jared, and Amanda and one grandson, Caleb. They can be contacted by email at [email protected].