I can confidently assert that we come into this world with no experience in how to live. We’re told that we’re supposed to learn from history. If we did read–and read history–history in a book is just a collection of dry pages. And so how do we learn to cope and to deal with this life we find ourselves living and we’ve had no experience about how to do it? Permit me, if you will, to be an amateur sociologist and tell you how I view these things. I undertake to do this without a great sense of modesty because I see (on a recent vacation) and had occasion to see almost daily at five o’clock in the afternoon a talk show on television where people come and present their various problems and there’s always some expert there–some social science expert that explains why people behave the way they do. The problem with those experts, as I see it, is that they’re unwilling to set any problems that they discuss in a moral framework. It always has to do with how you ultimately fix it so you’re pleased with yourself, or you get what you want without much attention to any sort of moral structure to our society. I think all of you would agree with me that mostly we learn by observation of what other people do, in imitation of their action. And even parents instruction is only validated in the child’s mind if he observes in his parents the conduct that the parent is preaching. So all of us come along learning how to walk, dress, talk, eat–even think–by observing our contemporaries and doing what they do. I’m sure all of you can think of things in your life that you do because you learn how to do ‘em as a child. I confess, I walk in a certain way now that has become habitual because the way I used to walk when I was a child I thought was inferior to the way that some of my friends walk.. So now I walk on the outside of my feet instead of on the inside and it’s become second nature. Certainly you can think of examples in your own life, where you’ve been affected in this way.
You see, we’re frightened when we come into the world by all these people and ignorant of the fact that they are all frightened too. So we’re afraid if we act differently we’ll be isolated, made fun of, and for all we know, attacked. And I think the word is ‘frightened’, a better word than ‘insecure’, I think they mean the same thing; they deal with the basic emotion that governs the lives of so many of us. We act like our friends because that makes us feel secure. But, lo and behold, one day you wake up and find that even though you’re trying to make yourself part of the crowd, that you’re ultimately responsible for yourself. Now if you come from a protective family, a good family with good roots and substance at home, it may be a long time before you wake up to the fact that you are ultimately responsible for yourself. I confess that I was middle aged before I really understood that my father wasn’t responsible for me,-- I was.
One thing we quickly learn, when we find ourselves responsible for ourselves, is that we never get a second chance to make a good first impression. I had a colleague and I forgot exactly what he did, but he did it very well. And I said to him, "That was a wonderful performance on your part". He said, "It was nothing"–that’s the second time I did it. What I hate is doing something for the first time." Well, truth to tell, his statement was inaccurate, because everything we do in life is ‘for the first time’. It may be similar to something we did before, but in the combinations and permutations that make up life nothing is identical. And while we gain experience based on our personal history, that experience is not a perfect guide in telling us how to deal with the future. An obvious illustration you read in the paper all the time, that economists are predicting that thus-and-so is going to happen to our country in the future, based on what has happened in the past. And it almost never happens, or it happens only infrequently–that the prediction comes true. But it is true also that experience in life doesn’t allow us to do things a second time–to get a second chance. We do learn some general rules about the things I’ve been discussing earlier. We know, for example, that Paul was right when he said ‘evil communications corrupt good manners’. Or said differently, and better in the New English Bible, ‘bad company is the ruin of good character’. We know that it’s not rewarding to live our lives like television stars. This does not promote happiness. We know that no matter how much we gain in worldly goods, it is never enough.
What I’m describing–this experience that I’m describing– is what I think most everybody, including us, think of as wisdom. So wisdom comes with age, shouldn’t it? I mean, after all, the more experiences you have the bigger database you have, so to speak , available to you to make decisions in the future. But our experience tells us that this is not always so. Some old people are often hardened, bitter, cynical. Their experience oftentimes causes them to have a kneejerk reaction. They’ve seen it all, they know what’s gonna happen, they’re never willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, because they’ve been down this road before and they know what the results are and they are generally contrary with whoever it is who’s putting forward a different view. We all know this, don’t we? We know everything I’ve just said. If you reflect upon it, you’ve all thought about these things–that material things don’t bring happiness, that we’re wise enough to see what we’re really like. Well, let me have you consider with me Job. We read in the first chapter that Job was perfect and upright, and one that feared God and eschewed evil. But in the 12th chapter of Job, he rebukes his so called comforters–you recall in the story of Job how he had all these calamities befall him and these three "friends" came along and told him what was wrong with him that caused all this trouble to happen to him. Here’s one of Job’s responses: 12th chapter–Job answered and said,
"No doubt but ye (his 3 friends) are the people,
and wisdom shall die with you.
But I have understanding as well as you.
I am not inferior to you.
Yea, who knows not such things as
these things that you just told me."
Skipping to 13th chapter, first 3 verses,
"Though mine eye hath seen all this,
mine ear hath heard and understood it,
what ye know the same do I know also.
I am not inferior to you.
Surely I would speak to the Almighty
and I desire to reason with God."
Well, that’s what passed-- at least for that period of his life-- for wisdom with Job. It tells us something about ourselves. We may be willing to admit that we’re not as smart as somebody else, but we’re not willing to admit most often that our instincts are not as good as someone else. The instinctive feeling we have is, ‘I’m as good as you are; my ideas are as good as your ideas’–after all, it’s part of the times; we are now exhorted to (quote) "feel good about ourselves"–a phrase I don’t recall existed ten years ago. And it’s my observation too that people today feel good about themselves generally when they lose weight–that’s part of-- that’s the biggest way that you can feel good about yourself.
Look what James says about wisdom: In the third chapter of James, I’m going to read the 17th verse and then the 13th verse.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure
then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated.
Full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality
and without hypocrisy.
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you
Let him show out of a good life his work
With meekness of wisdom.
In the New English Bible that last phrase of the 13th verse is translated What comes of wisdom is modesty. You’re not wise if you’re thinking all the time you’re as good as somebody else. You are wise if you think of yourself, along with all other men, as sharing common flaws. Wise people are truth facers. I mean they see the truth about life, they see the truth about themselves, and they are therefore without pretense. And therefore, humble. Or as James says, modest. Would some power the gift to gie’ us, to see ourselves as others see us, said Robert Burns. And if you can truly do that you are on the way to becoming wise.
Let me get you to think about this: in late 20th century America, the people in this room have got riches, riches beyond the riches of Solomon, in terms of automobiles, television–I mean everybody to a greater or lesser extent is wealthy by the standards of the ages. And we also know the truth as it is in Jesus. Elsewhere in the world, millions, yes, billions of people have neither. The only thing we have in common with people in Africa, and in India, and parts of China, perhaps, is a concern about weight. We’re trying to lose weight and they don’t have enough to eat to maintain their weight. We are, so to speak, to use common parlance, double dippers. We’ve got everything this life has to offer and everything that God has promised. Those persons about whom I just spoke have neither the necessities to live in this life, and since they understand not, no promise for the future. How can that be just? Since we never get a second chance in life–not to worry, I guess, maybe it will be just because we’re likely to botch it up if we have all these riches. I mean, after all, consider this man we read about in 1st Kings, 3rd chapter this morning: Let me call your attention again to what it was God did give to him. It said, God was pleased, the Lord was pleased that Solomon has asked for wisdom. And God said, in the 11th verse,
"Because thou hast asked for this thing
and hast not asked for riches,
I have done according to thy words;
I am going to give you a wise and understanding heart,
and I am going to give you riches also."
Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man that ever lived. Turn a few pages to the 11th chapter of 1st Kings and we read, "It came to pass", 4th verse ,when Solomon was old that his wives turned away his heart to other gods, and his heart was not perfect with his God as was the heart of David his father.
" For Solomon went after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. For Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all of his foreign wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods."
Well, if the wisest man in the world couldn’t deal with the truth and riches, how do we do it since we don’t get a second chance?
But as you surmise, we do get a second chance. That’s what we come here to remember this morning. Our second chance happened before we were born. In the 6th chapter of Romans, we read,
"Know ye not that as many of us as were
baptized into Jesus Christ
were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him
by baptism into his death."
In other words, Paul is telling us, we died with Jesus. That as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also now walk in newness of life . For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Or as Paul says in 2Cor 5th chapter, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creation." When Christ died we died. When Christ was raised to become incorruptible, so were we, in a figure. Christ stands in our place, if you will, before God. But with all the confidence that these metaphors give us, are you–like me–haunted by the words of James, the Lord’s brother, faith if it hath not works is dead, being alone.