Sermon for Sunday, June 19th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Pro 8:1-36 ESV] 1 Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: 4 “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. 5 O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. 6 Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, 7 for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. 9 They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. 10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, 11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. 12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. 13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. 14 I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. 15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; 16 by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. 17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. 18 Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. 19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. 20 I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, 21 granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries. 22 “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man. 32 “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. 33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. 34 Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, 36 but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
New Testament reading:
[Eph 1:3-10 ESV] 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
[Luk 14:25-33 ESV] 25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Today we continue with our third sermon in a series on Christian virtues. We previously looked at humility and charity, today we look at prudence.
And this is a less commonly used word today. Not one that is in great favor.
I. What is Prudence?
It may help or it may complicate matters to look at how prudence is defined, for I’ve found quite a variety of definitions of prudence.
It means discernment, shrewdness, insight, understanding, and good sense.
Other say that prudence is the application of universal principles to particular situations.
So then, if wisdom is theory, then prudence is practice.
For example, it is prudent to check your bank account before you write a check.
It is prudent to follow that maxim “don’t fix what isn’t broken.”
And it is prudent to take a trail map with you when hiking a new trail.
And, it is prudent, as we saw from the reading of Luke’s Gospel – to count the cost of a building project before beginning. Its never good to have a half-built house and an empty wallet.
C. Biblical Use
As for its Biblical, prudence is always found side-by-side with wisdom. [REPEAT: Prudence is always found side-by-side with wisdom]
[Eph 1:8 KJV] 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
and from the text for our sermon:
[Pro 8:12 KJV] 12 I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.
Because prudence is found with wisdom, some have taken this to mean that prudence IS wisdom. But it actually is slightly different. Prudence is the application of wisdom to your circumstances. It is putting wisdom in action.
We must see that it is not enough to be wise. We need prudence as well. To have wisdom but not prudence is like … having a baseball bat but never swinging at the pitch.
So, wisdom is a tool, and prudence the use of it, the application of it.
So indeed, prudence is a virtue independent of wisdom. A virtue in its own right.
II. Prudence, like all virtues, is OF GOD
Now, as we look to the Bible it understand this virtue, it is important that we know that prudence, like all virtues, is OF GOD. It is FROM God.
This is why virtues are called Fruit of the Spirit. They are OF God and FROM God.
In our own natural state we are anything but prudent. We lack wisdom, and our actions prove it.
But God is all-wise, and Christ is the Wisdom of God.
So then, only with Christ’s Holy Spirit living in us, do we produce the fruit of the Spirit, including wisdom and prudence.
And so we don’t boast in our wisdom or in our prudence, but we boast in the Lord who gives us wisdom and prudence and all other virtues. We depend on the Lord.
And this is so vital as we continue to talk about virtues. I think some of the reason the Christian world has shied away from speaking about virtue is that it tends to sound like bragging, like patting yourself on the back. “Oh, you are so virtuous, aren’t you.” But it is not like that at all – virtues are OF God, His working in us. And we should therefore never brag about ourselves. What is there to brag about when we look at our sinful wretched selves. We brag, we boast only in the Lord.
III. Prudence applies God’s Word to our World
So we see WHERE virtue comes from – only FROM the Lord. But I always want to look at HOW this virtue comes to us. It only comes from the Word of God; that is, we can only know what is truly prudent by looking to the Word of God and what it tells us is prudent.
To say this all another way “prudence applies God’s Word to our World.” [REPEAT: prudence applies God’s Word to our World]
Certainly we observe a trend in the world that few among the young are wise or prudent, but that wisdom and prudence grow with time and experience.
Yet, time and experience alone are of NO value to true Wisdom and Prudence. Experience is not enough. You could have all the experience in the world, but no wisdom, no prudence. To have prudence, you need to embrace Christ, the wisdom of God.
From our text:
“To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. 5 O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. 6 Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right, 7 for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips
All that the Lord speaks is truth and right, it is knowledge, wisdom, and prudence.
The Lord Jesus Christ then, the WORD of God, is true and right, and is knowledge, wisdom, and prudence.
No wonder the Scriptures say that Christ is “The Wisdom of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:24 – “to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Without Christ we simply would have no true wisdom, no prudence.
Ultimately, we don’t make decisions well on our own. We need the Lord’s guidance from the Scriptures, not pretended dreams or visions.
And there is great wisdom in the word. The book of Proverbs for example is full of wisdom. In fact, Solomon tells of the very purpose of writing the book:
[Pro 1:1-5 ESV] 1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: 2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, 3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; 4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth– 5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,
Yet so few want to listen to the word of God, to read it, to obey it. This is done to their peril, for in the Scriptures we have the Word of the all-knowing and all-wise God.
So whenever we come upon a situation where wisdom is to be applied — and we must grant that this is a frequent occurrence — we must look to the Word for guidance.
The function of prudence is to point out which course of action is to be taken in any concrete circumstances.
Fortunately, from the word of God we have wisdom in many circumstances:
Matthew 18 tells us how to address a person who has sinned against you.
Acts 15, among other places, shows us how the church is to be structured.
The parable of the talents tell us that we are to put our resources to good use.
Genesis tells us what marriage and family is to be, and how God created all in 6 days.
The commandments guide us away from evil.
And the Scriptures teach us to trust in God in all circumstances.
And the ultimate wisdom is seen in the plan of God. Saving his people.
[1Co 1:21-25 ESV] 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
There is so much wisdom in the Scriptures.
Our sermon text from proverbs says this:
10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, 11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. 12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.
Note that: Take MY instruction.
It is the Lord who we listen to, not ourselves, not “experience” but divinely revealed wisdom. Let us never be wise in our own sight, but depend on the Lord for wisdom.
Let’s look then at a few applications.
Application 1: Discernment
First, is “discernment.”
This is a more commonly used word today than prudence. And it is much like prudence.
Discernment is that ability to chose the wise course of action. To discern between the good and the bad.
As we are called to prudence, we are called to discernment.
This often requires patience, another virtue. Perhaps you see how these virtues overlap, coincide, and entail one another.
We really need to work on all virtues to improve any virtue.
Discernment, like prudence, often applies to money, but it also has in view those big decisions in life. College, career, marriage, and children, etc. We must choose our actions well, and this requires wisdom.
God does not give us the answer to every particular in the Bible. He doesn’t tell us which job to take, which college to attend, or who to marry. We have freedom to chose in each of these areas, but we also have wisdom from the Lord. Believers must marry believers so as not to be unequally yoked. Our work should match our gifting.
Regarding discernment we are often called to judge between right and wrong. And while we have some natural ability — the conscience — most often we need to go to the word. God determines what is right and what is wrong. Our opinions are unimportant! [REPEAT: Our opinions are unimportant … when it comes to truth and falsity.]
One might desire women leadership in churches, but the Bible clearly teaches otherwise.
One might desire easy access to abortion, but the Bible teaches otherwise.
One might desire easy money policies and government redistribution of wealth, but the Bible teaches otherwise.
It order to judge properly on the many difficult ethical and political questions we are faces with — in order to discern truth from error — we must ALWAYS go to God’s word.
He speaks wisdom which dwells with prudence.
And so while I said there are many “difficult ethical and political questions,” I also believe that you will find that by going to the Bible for answers that many of the difficult questions turn out to be not-so-difficult. God’s word is clear and amazing, giving knowledge, solutions to the quandaries of the “wise.”
Application 2: Seeing the big picture
Another application. “Seeing the big picture.”
Prudence, applying wisdom, must take into account the long-view, the broad-view, the big-picture of life, faith, and God.
So not only are we looking at little decision day to day, but the arrangement of our lives for glorifying God.
The first time that I heard a pastor say that a person should move to be near a good church, I thought that was pretty extreme. Now I believe that is true. It is more important to have a good church than a good job.
It is prudent to prioritize. Family is first, then church, then work. In our day this is really messed up. People work and give little thought to family and no thought to church. And no one ever says on their death bed, “I wish I had worked more.”
Seeing the big picture means that we prudently make choices for the long run, not the excitement of the moment.
Application 3: The Importance of Prudence
Finally, we have the importance of prudence.
Some in the Catholic church have called prudence the highest of all virtues as it applies each virtue at the right time to the right circumstance. In a previous sermon I showed that, Biblically, if any virtue is superior to others it is love or charity which Paul calls “the greatest” of virtues. But this isn’t to diminish from prudence, a very important virtue indeed.
The emphasis above all, in the text from Proverbs 8 is the importance of prudence.
The Lord’s wisdom is, it is said, is better than jewels. His instruction better than silver, knowledge better than gold.
Our greatest desire should be to dwell with the Lord who is wisdom dwelling with prudence.
This why “doing theology” or reading theology becomes such a joy to many. Because in studying the Word of God we find wisdom incomparable.
And so we pray that God gives us the prudence to apply this wisdom in our word. Reading and studying is good, putting the wisdom of the Lord into action is even better.
Let us pray for prudence.