Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man, and he will learn more.
The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.
The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks it.
Apply yourself to discipline and listen to words of knowledge.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
In considering Learning as a spiritual practice, these verses in Proverbs seem to illustrate something about our pursuit of wisdom: we get in its way. Let’s look at these four verses and see if we can paint a picture of “the wise.”
In Proverbs a writing technique called “parallelism” is used a good bit. One verse makes a statement, then the second verse will reinforce its moral teaching and outcome or show its opposite. In our first verse (9:9) we parallel in the positive sense two types of people, the wise and the righteous.
In both cases, they are looking for and listening for things that are wise and right. Their predisposition is that they are teachable. They seek out and welcome wise and right instruction from others. Hang on to that while we look at the next verse.
In this verse (10:14) we have parallelism that contrasts in the negative sense the wise and the foolish. The wise “store up knowledge,” meaning they are not always talking, but often listening and reflecting. Storing up. Have you ever known a story-topper, someone who always feels the need to top your story with one better? Sometimes I get the sense that my story was not even heard in that situation, not important, because it seemed the story-topper was just waiting for the chance to jump in!
The wise soak up wisdom; they want to be around it and in its path. They store it up to use when needed. Remember another tough proverb in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Many words mark the speech of a fool” (5:3 NIV). Wisdom seems to be best discovered through listening and observing. Speaking is not foolish, but perhaps speaking without listening can be. Next verse!
The ESV reads, “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge” (18:15), and the HCSB says, “The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge.” Both end with the ear of the wise seeking knowledge. Reading both translations gets at the heart of this verse better. The wise engage their intellect, guided by the Spirit of the Only Wise God, in what they consider and hear.
I heard Pastor Adrian Rodgers once say that things like movies and music can be dangerous because they bypass reason and go straight to the heart, to our emotions. We don’t really think about what we’re seeing or hearing, and we just let it affect us as it will.
This kind of mental posture can sometimes get us into trouble if it becomes a regular way of thinking. The wise are discerning in what they acquire in their minds. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s probably more junk and useless stuff rattling around in my mind than there should be!
Our last verse (23:12) comes in the middle of a list of 30 Sayings of the Wise recorded in this section of Proverbs. It pops up as a reminder to “apply yourself” in discipline and instruction and to “listen” to words of knowledge. This is a good exhortation to maybe turn the TV off a little earlier and get into Scripture and some kind of Bible study alone with God. Or maybe turn the radio off on the way to work and think about a passage you read recently.
Wisdom doesn’t often just happen by itself in our lives. We may learn many things by experience, but wisdom from God comes from time alone with Him and having a heart and an ear turned towards Him in daily life. The wise are not passive in their faith; they apply themselves in the pursuit of godly wisdom.
So what do we have here in these verses on wisdom and learning? The wise are teachable, listening, observant, discerning and active in applying themselves to wisdom. The wise put themselves in the way of God’s wisdom so it cannot pass by unnoticed or be ineffective their lives. To be sure, “Wisdom cries aloud in the streets” (1:20). God always speaks to us as believers in His Son Jesus and teaches us by the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives—if we will listen. Let’s be wise today!
- Is there something that is more of a distraction than a help in your life that you can replace with prayer and some kind of Bible reading/study?
- How can we have a more observing disposition to find wise and godly men and women who we can talk to and learn from?
- Try memorizing whichever one of our proverbs today spoke the most to you! Repeat it as you drive or when you have a moment to think about it. Why does that proverb speak most to you?