The Wisdom that Escapes Lady Folly
Passage: Proverbs 4–7
Good morning! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jonathan Prudhomme, and I’m one of the pastoral residents here at OGC. And for those of you who do know me, you may remember that in my second week on the job, the first sermon that I preached here was on the fact that we will be judged by every careless word we speak. So just so we don’t break the easy streak, and because Jim loves me so much, you may have gathered from the sermon text that I’ll be preaching on the super easy topic of adultery today.
No, jokes aside, I really don’t want to approach this topic with levity this morning..
Because unfortunately, for many of us, when we think about adultery, we aren’t just thinking about some vague concept. Instead, we may be thinking of dark memories in our past that are filled with shame and regret. Some of us, on the other hand, may be feeling a lump in our throat as we remember sleepless nights spent weeping and wondering why such a thing would happen to us. Unfortunately, whether we have witnessed adultery in esteemed leaders, or have been victims of it, or even if we have committed adultery ourselves, both our experiences and Scripture show us that the issue of adultery is not simply an isolated event that pops up out of nowhere. Instead, what we're going to see especially in these chapters in Proverbs this morning is that adultery actually develops on three fronts over time. So we will see this morning that these three fronts are: 1.) our attitudes 2.) our habits and 3.) our affections.
Now obviously, we aren’t just talking about adultery this morning simply as a topic. As you know, we’ve been walking through Proverbs. And the big focus of Proverbs is wisdom. So it’s in that context that we come to the specific topic of adultery. And you can see this clearly in the way that Solomon exhorts the reader (young royal boys) In fact, we see him urging us over and over to get wisdom in chapter four.
For instance, in verse 1 “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight.
Verse 7 says, “Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”... Another way to put this would be “Acquire or purchase wisdom. Yes, at the cost of all that you possess, acquire insight.”
verse 20, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.”
Now, I think these verses beg the question: why does Solomon have to urge us over and over to take care, to be attentive to, and to incline our ear to wisdom? Why does he have to exhort us over and over to acquire wisdom? Is it not obvious that wisdom is to be preferred above folly? Isn't it obvious that exercising discernment is better than being foolish in life?
Well maybe it's not so obvious, after all...Otherwise, why else would he repeat it so many times?
And In fact, we even see that Solomon puts this in question form in Proverbs chapter 8 where he says "Does wisdom not call? Does understanding not raise her voice?” And obviously, the answer to this rhetorical question is: yes!! As Ericson, Jim, and Mike have mentioned, wisdom is personified in the person of “Lady Wisdom”, and here, she’s literally depicted as standing on the street corner inviting people to pay attention to what she has to say.
But as clear as her voice is, hers is not the only voice that is vying for our attention. There’s another competing voice as well, the voice of Lady Folly, who as chapter 7 says, “tries to persuade us with seductive speech and who tries to compel us with smooth talk.”
So this is why Solomon is urging us and exhorting us to incline our ear and to pay attention to wisdom! He knows that there is this seductive voice that wants our attention and that would want nothing more than for us to blow our lives up.
Now just as a quick aside, I think it’s important to note what this text isn’t saying. This text isn’t saying that women are wily, evil seductresses and that they’re the reason that poor, unwitting men fall into the trap of adultery. Instead, in this text we see Lady Folly who is depicted as the personification of the very opposite of Lady Wisdom. She is the quintessential voice that allures both men and women into folly.
So in the midst of this allure of Lady Folly how do we practically be attentive and incline our ear to wisdom?
Well, one of the refrains of Proverbs is that "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD." Likewise, humility is also absolutely fundamental for gaining wisdom. For example Proverbs 11:2 says that "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”
So if we were to summarize what Solomon is saying so far, we could say that, in order to have wisdom (and especially the kind of wisdom that escapes the seduction of Lady Folly), you have to have the right posture. You have to have the right attitude.
And the very essence of that attitude is humility. In fact, having a humble attitude is absolutely essential because those who have a humble attitude recognize their need for wisdom. In other words, if you have a humble attitude, you’ll recognize your need to receive input from those outside of yourself. Your ears will be open and ready to listen and learn instead of thinking you already know everything. In short, the right attitude for gaining wisdom is actually quite paradoxical: it’s not thinking that you’re wise!
Because when we think that we’re already wise we don’t pay attention to warnings. We don’t pay attention to potential dangers because we think of ourselves as being unique and smarter than others. So we think, "That won’t happen to me! I'm not like those other people."
And this is precisely the attitude that we see in the warning issued in chapter 4 and then what happens later in chapter 7 as a result. Solomon writes in chapter 4 verses 14-15, "Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.”
But then what do we see in chapter 7? Instead of listening to Lady Wisdom we see a man who listens to Lady Folly. In verses 6-9 Solomon writes about one who embodies this posture that falls into the sway of Lady Folly’s seduction. He says, "For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.”
Now, of course Solomon doesn’t let us into this man's inner dialogue, but you can almost hear his reasoning, "I know I shouldn't be snooping around here, but I'll just take a look.. I’m just curious... After all, I can always go back." But with this kind of thinking, he does two things. He overestimates his own strength, and he underestimates the danger of the situation...because he has the wrong attitude. In other words, he has fallen into the mindset that chapter 6 mentions. He thinks that he can carry fire close to his chest without being burned. And so, he is not even aware of his own weakness. That is, after all, what a lack of humility does to us: it makes us ignore the obvious. It dulls our senses to what’s blatant.
So we need to ask ourselves this morning: How would we describe our attitude? Do we already consider ourselves wise? Or do we recognize our own desperate need for wisdom? Do we have humble hearts inclined to heed wisdom? Or do we ignore the wise voices around us?
Because it takes a humble attitude and an awareness of our lack of wisdom to get the wisdom that escapes Lady Folly…But that’s not all it takes. We don’t just need the right attitude to escape Lady Folly, we also need to develop right habits.
Look back with me at chapter 4 in verses sixteen and seventeen. Solomon is talking about the ungodly here, and he says "For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.”
But then in contrast to the ungodly here, he continues with exhortations in verses 20-27. In short he makes a list of exhortations that mentions all the parts of the body. He says:
"My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart...Keep your heart with all vigilance... Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
So what is Solomon talking about here? What is he trying to convey to us?
Well, when he talks about the ungodly sleeping, eating and drinking, he's talking about their very mundane, daily activities. And then similarly, he emphasizes all the parts of the body in his exhortations. So by doing this, he is talking about our daily routines. He’s talking about our habits. So all of our thoughts, what we say, what we do with our time, where we go, what we strive for, and how we relax make up the totality of our habitual life.
And you know the interesting thing about our habits is that they are never neutral. Instead, we are always being formed by our habits. We’re always being shaped by our daily rhythms. So, what Solomon is saying here is that we are either being formed by ungodliness and folly or we are being formed by wisdom.
And this is perhaps even more pressing for us because we live in an age like no other! For instance, we have access to more information than any other group of people in history. We are the target of more advertising than any other people in history, and we are offered more worldviews on a daily basis than ever before.
So we are always being shaped by our consumption of these things: by our consumption of social media, by different news sources, by binge watching Netflix shows. In fact, these are not passive things. If you read one news article from one perspective, an algorithm will generate ten more just like it. If you watch an inappropriate video on YouTube, guess what? You’ll get more of that too. So this is one of the main reasons we are launching Formation Groups. Because we want to do an internal audit on our lives to see what is forming and shaping us. We want to understand which sources in our information diet get the greatest opportunity and the most time in our day to mold our hearts.
The ancient Greeks and Hebrews understood this well -- they knew that people had to be shaped and molded over time to actually love what they ought to love. Likewise, Augustine also explained our human condition as having disordered loves. In other words, both the Greeks and Augustine understood that our natural human tendency was to desire certain things too much and other things too little. And by having disordered loves, we tend to make certain things so important in our lives that they end up controlling us and causing us ultimate harm. So the goal of forming our habits was to shape our desires and to bring them into the right order that was healthy and that promoted our own good and the good of those around us.
But in contrast to this understanding, in our modern, "enlightened" cultural moment, the goal of forming and shaping people is to free us to express our most authentic conception of ourselves. This understanding has come to be called expressive individualism. And according to our modern culture, our most authentic self comes from our inward experience of our feelings, whatever each individual person may deem those to be. So what this cultural narrative tells us is that, if we have a deep desire or feeling, and perhaps especially a romantic or sexual one, then we have to express it in order to be authentic! To suppress it would even be harmful to us emotionally and psychologically.
And what’s interesting is that this cultural voice is echoed in Lady Folly’s words in chapter 7. For instance, in verse 18 She says “Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love.” So what’s she saying? Well, she’s inviting us to stop suppressing our desires. She’s inviting us to give full expression to our longings.
So you see, the cultural belief that we are all daily swimming in is low-hanging fruit for Lady Folly. And we are constantly being allured by her voice that wants to mold us and form us according to this narrative. And she does this alluring and molding by what commentator Derek Kidner calls “shock treatment”.
Because what Lady Folly is doing is she’s inundating our senses. For instance, In verses 16 and 17, she says “I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.” So she’s using any means possible to overwhelm our senses.
And she even goes so far as to create a convincing story to do so! She says in verse 14 that she has made a peace offering for this very occasion. And biblically speaking, peace offerings were made for joyous occasions. They were made for celebration. So she was saying, “There’s nothing to feel guilty over or ashamed of here! Only love worth celebrating!”
So all in all, what Lady Folly is doing is she’s taking one desire, she’s taking one “love”, so to speak, and she’s elevating it to the place of being ultimate. She’s disordering our loves.
But we have to ask ourselves: When is it ever good to stake our whole sense of fulfillment on one desire or impulse? When is it ever good to find our very self in one desire?
Well, I think the answer that Solomon gives is pretty clear. He says:
“Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.”
So he’s saying that to disorder our loves in this way, to put one desire, to put one love above all the others is destructive. It’s deadly!
So what’s the alternative?
Well, as we said before, we don’t just need the right attitude, we need the right habits. We need habits that can order our loves. So what do these habits look like?
Well, we just saw that the paths of Lady Folly were the way to death. But look at chapter 6 verse 23. Solomon writes, "For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,"
Now, you might be thinking, “Good grief, rules, discipline, correction… That doesn’t sound very fun.” And we come by this posture honestly, because we are a society that is trained by convenience and by ease. But, I think if you take a look under the hood, none of us is really fundamentally lazy. We just ultimately give our effort to what we want the most. I say that because, in 2014 I got to meet one of my favorite preachers and authors, and I will never forget what he said. I went up to him and said, “Your books are chock full of quotes and footnotes! How do you have time to read all of that?” And do you know how he responded? He said, “You do what you want to do.” And my brain kind of exploded in that moment, because I knew he was right! We put forth effort, we discipline ourselves, and we ultimately submit ourselves to certain regimens when we really want something. In other words, we allow ourselves to be trained by what we treasure. Our habits are dictated by what we hunger for. And we allow ourselves to be disciplined for whatever we truly desire.
So we’re all naturally being formed and shaped and disciplined so to speak by our habits that come from what we want and love the most. And so to this point, in chapter 4, Solomon says “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." and he says "Let your heart hold fast my words" Then in chapter 7 verse 1 it says "My son, keep my words, treasure my precepts.."
And Solomon is saying this here because he knows that whatever is at the center of our hearts, we will guard like a Swiss bank guards a trust fund. So he’s saying, let God’s Word be that treasure. Let what he says have that kind influence over your heart. Let God’s Word guard your heart and order your loves. Because if His voice has that kind of capital in your heart then it will order your desires in such a way that you will have life and flourishing. It will do good to you and good to those around you.
So practically, I think Charles Spurgeon illustrates what guarding our hearts with God’s word looks like. He likens it to the pressing of grapes to get good wine out of it. He says,
“We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if we would have wine from it, we must bruise it; we must press and squeeze it many times. The bruiser’s feet must come down joyfully upon the bunches, or else the juice will not flow; and they must well tread the grapes, or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. So we must, by meditation, tread the clusters of truth, if we would get the wine of consolation therefrom.”
So this is discipline by which we guard our hearts. And it’s by this habit of meditating on God’s word that we form what we ultimatelyi treasure.
But what about correction? If you remember we just read about discipline and also correction in chapter 6. And even in chapter 5, verses 12 and 13, Solomon writes: "How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teacher or incline my ear to my instructors.”
So what does this mean? Well it means that we trust our community and we receive loving correction in community. Now, we don't tend to like this idea because we are Western individualists. And we think, “Who are you to tell me how to live my life?” And maybe we come by this honestly because we've legitimately had bad experiences in the past with church leaders or people in the church who were neither tactful nor loving when correcting us. Or perhaps they weren’t actually correcting at all, but instead they were exploiting us by using their position. And these are grievous things that God’s word condemns. But, as hard as those things are, that still leaves us with the question: if no one really has the right to lovingly suggest that maybe we are wrong, who can gently help us when we are self-deceived and are at danger of hurting ourselves and others? So we need to ask ourselves, who has the right in our lives to correct us?
I think this goes back to the question of our attitude and posture. For instance, those who have a humble attitude gladly accept correction! Because they know they need it! Because they know how susceptible their heart is to being hardened.
I actually heard a great way to articulate this humble attitude recently. A really wise man told me: “I may be a mile down the road, but I’m still a foot from the ditch.” And I think this is why we are told in Hebrews : "exhort one another daily, as long as it can be said, 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." .
So correction is this mutual exhortation. And we all need it. We need friends who can encourage us, and sometimes, we even need friends who would be willing to go so far as to metaphorically break our arm if it means not getting run over by a train!!! As Solomon writes later on "faithful are the wounds of a friend."
So these are the attitudes and habits that keep us from Lady Folly. But I don't know about you, when I hear these things, I feel overwhelmed. Because I recognize that oftentimes I don't have the most humble attitude and, unfortunately, I'm not always the poster-boy for the disciplined life. So what do we do?
Well, the good news is that our attitudes and habits of discipline are not enough. There is no amount of effort that can ultimately bring about fundamental change in ourselves! We just can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. In other words, we can't just throw the logs of our right attitudes and our right habits into the fireplace and expect a fire to start! We need something else. We need some source of heat. So what we need aren’t just right attitudes and right habits, we also need the warmth of right affections.
So how do we warm our affections? Well, oftentimes we find that it's not simply the facts that convince us. Instead, it's actually beautiful stories that convince us, that move us, and that warm our hearts.
Look back with me at 4 verses 3 and 4 again.It says, "When I was still a child with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me, saying, "Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live;" It’s like we’re getting a flashback of some fond childhood memories.
But whose flashback is this? Who is speaking here? Who is the child? Who are the parents here? Well, we've said many times that King Solomon is the author of most of these proverbs. And if we remember, Solomon's parents were King David and Bathsheba….the woman with whom David committed adultery....
So it's pretty shocking that we have all these exhortations about adultery from one who is the very fruit of adultery itself! And then if you know Solomon's story, it's not like he's the picture of faithfulness either. And while we’re at it, if you keep thinking about it, in the end you realize that their story isn't that different from ours! In fact, the whole Bible is really one big story about adultery:
In fact, from Genesis to Revelation, all of Scripture tells us the story of a God who makes a covenant with his people, he makes a marital covenant in which he declares that he will love them forever and will always stay faithful to them. But unfortunately, his people, his bride, doesn’t reciprocate this love and faithfulness. Instead, we see over and over again that God’s bride betrays him and prostitutes herself after other lovers, after other treasures, after other gods.
Now, the shocking thing about this story is that this is our story! We are that bride! We are the ones who have prostituted ourselves after other lovers! We are the adulterers! And we have been caught in the act!
So it's all over here, right? God serves us the divorce papers. He leaves us, right? Because, after all, we deserve it! But that's not what God does. In fact, he does quite the opposite!
Listen to these words from Isaiah. He writes God's words to his bride:
"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you, like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer."
So you see that the whole story of the Bible is the story of people who have fallen deeper and deeper into shame and sin, and yet, it’s the story of God Himself coming after us, His unfaithful bride! And he came after us in the Person of Christ, in the most brilliant manifestation of the Bridegroom himself who redeems his bride from the snare of sin and shame at the cost of his own life, to take our on the shame of our unfaithfulness and to give us his faithfulness.
And it is this story, it is this gospel that warms our affections! It is this fire that lights the logs of our attitudes and habits! So may we have our affections warmed by the story of the Bridegroom who, despite his bride's betrayal, came after her to redeem her, to capture her heart, and to love her to the end. And, as a result, may we incline our ear to the tune of this story, and may we keep this love near to our hearts so that we might escape the allure of Lady Folly’s voice.