“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” Psalm 111:10a
Decisions. Every day of your life, you’re faced with many of them. Small decisions about whether to buy CocaCola or the cheaper no-name brand. Big decisions about whether to buy a new car or keep the old one for another three years. Decisions about where your dollars will go on a Thursday evening shopping spree, where your feet will go on a Friday night. Decisions about jobs, relationships, entertainment.
These decisions are important because you will want to live well, to make good and right decisions. The Bible calls this wisdom. Wisdom is often confused with knowledge. Someone who performs brilliantly on a TV quiz show may have his head crammed full of information. But that doesn’t mean he has wisdom!
In Scripture, wisdom is very practical. It’s often connected with ordinary people. Wisdom describes the skill of the people who made Aaron’s high priestly garments (Exod. 20:3); the craftsmanship of metal workers (Exod. 31:3 ,6). A person who is skilled, who knows how to do their job well, is a person the Bible calls wise.
Applied to life in general, then, wisdom is the art of living well. It’s the art of living your daily life, and doing a good job of it. Being able to decide between good and bad; knowing the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. In other words, the very quality you need in order to make good decisions, to live well, is wisdom.
So where do you get wisdom? Can you sign up for a course in “Wisdom 101,” perhaps buy textbooks on the subject? God’s Word tells you where to find wisdom. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” The key to wisdom, to living well is to start with the fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD is the doorway to wisdom. You can’t get wisdom without going through that doorway.
Do you still remember what you learned in grade 1? It’s a safe guess to say that somewhere around that time in your life, you learned your ABCs. When you finished grade 1, did you forget the ABCs? You wouldn’t get very far in grade 2 if you did! That beginning step is foundational. If you don’t start with that foundation, with the first steps, then you are never going to get any farther.
Similarly, fearing God is the fundamental first step to being wise, to living well. If you don’t start by learning in God’s school, with those ABCs, then you don’t have a hope of living well! The fear of the LORD is the basic first step, essential for every step in life. Without it, you can’t get true wisdom.
What, then, is this foundational “fear of the LORD”? The Bible uses this expression to refer to being in awe and reverence of God. Fearing God means knowing God for who He really is, being in a right relationship with Him, understanding that you’re a child of God, that He’s your creator (v.2), provider (v.5), and Savior (v.9) in Jesus Christ.
Truly fearing the LORD, understanding the riches of being God’s child, always results in an obedient lifestyle. When you understand what God has done for you, you will respect Him, love Him and obey Him. Being God-fearing always results in a thankful lifestyle that says, “My Father, tell me, your child, what to do and I’ll do it!” So, it’s no surprise that in the Bible, fearing God is always connected with proper living, obeying God’s Word. The expression, “fear of God,” often parallels obeying God’s commandments (Ps. 19:7–9), and contrasts doing evil (Prov. 8:13). Obedience is part of fearing God. To live well then, you need to listen to God’s Word and obey His commandments.
When you do that, you will get wisdom. You will truly understand life, the way things really work. If you don’t fear God and don’t have wisdom, you will find it totally depressing to experience suffering and trials. You won’t understand why you had to suffer that accident or sickness. But if you fear the LORD, and read His Word, you know that God uses your suffering to produce perseverance, character and hope (Rom. 5:3–5), and that He uses your suffering to work for good (Rom. 8:28). Because you are God-fearing and wise, you are encouraged in trials instead of depressed!
If you don’t fear God and don’t have wisdom, you won’t understand the purpose of daily work. People who don’t fear God work for work’s sake, or perhaps to get rich. They hope to win the lottery or else retire at 55 and spend the rest of their lives playing golf and traveling the world. They busily chase earthly things, only to discover that they don’t satisfy. You know why. When you fear God, and read His Word, you know that the ultimate purpose of work isn’t about getting rich, but about serving God. That’s wisdom!
That’s how fearing God, listening to and obeying His Word helps you to interpret properly what happens in your life, and make the right decisions. Life becomes a lot easier! The fools of the world have to work everything out for themselves how to live well. Even then they get it wrong. But God tells you, His children, how to live well! His Word gives you a proper perspective on every aspect of life.
How are you going to live well? Choose wisdom. Make the fear of the LORD your starting point in every aspect of your life. View everything in connection with your relationship with your Father in heaven. Listen to what His Word says about it, and ask Him for help. Then you will understand life and make right decisions and choices. Don’t worry if the world regards your lifestyle as a foolish one. The fools of this world have long regarded the wisdom of God as foolishness (I Cor. 1:18). Their mistake is nothing less than eternal foolishness.
Rev. Richard Pot is minister of the Canadian Reformed Church in Orangeville, Ontario.
Reprinted from Clarion, September 17, 1999.