A wise man will increase in learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel…. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:5–7—NKJV)

Thinking is hard work, especially complete thinking. “Don’t be half-baked” was an expression my father seemed to use often during my teenage years. Being “half-baked” is a common bedfellow of “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Whether for a glittering dream, a “righteous” cause, a prevailing world view, a natural desire of life, or even a fond hope of heaven, if you set sail with your happy-heart thoughts only “half-baked,” you will soon find your decks awash in a dark, foreboding and menacing sea. Being forewarned is to be forearmed. Discerning thinking allows preparation for the journey across the sea of life, though the waters will be just as menacing. Through good forethought, your vessel will be prepared to weather the journey to the destination.

Proverbs is introduced by the first seven verses of chapter one. Verse seven has the key phrase for the book: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning (first part, foundation) of knowledge.” We all want to be wise. Solomon points out the very foundation of true wisdom. We are not talking intellect, native sense, or I.Q. There are some brilliant people who have rejected the value of fearing God. There is no humble reverence for their Creator within them and their intellect bows to no divine guardrails. Instead, they apply the very talent God has given them to disprove His existence, thus robbing themselves and all who follow them of eternal meaning, moral standard, common personal significance, and joyful hope beyond the grave. What, then, is the lasting value of all their knowledge? Their legacy is mingled with solitary despair and their bent forces a limit to their contributions to mankind. Moses said, “for all our days are passed away in Thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told…. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm 90:9–12)

Solomon points all his readers in a different direction. His purpose in writing the collection of proverbs is two-fold, according to verse 2 which teaches how believers mature in the learning process toward wisdom. First, comes instruction in knowledge of godly wisdom, as detailed in verses 3–4. The second skill arises from the consistent practice of the first—the much coveted life skill of discernment that we find in verse 5. Solomon says, “To know wisdom and instruction (discipline of knowledge in the realm of God and men), to perceive words of understanding (mental discipline which matures).” He wants his readers to read for knowing and for perceiving.

The topics to be taught, explored, and acquired are listed in verses 3 and 4:

  • Wisdom—a different word from verse 2, meaning discrete (distinct, detached from others) counsel, the ability to govern oneself with success.
  • Justice—compiling a standard of righteousness that conforms to God’s righteous standard and making it one’s personal, practical standard in life.
  • Judgment—the outward manifestation of that internal, godly standard in one’s dealings with others.
  • Equity—fair and consistent application of your godliness in your dealings with all.

Verse 4 explains that the learner benefits from this knowledge as it transforms the simple one (open, like an open door—anything can go in or out, the undiscerning neophyte, ignorantly naïve) into a prudent, pondering young man who thinks and is equipped to make a wise choice. He is equipped to choose wisdom, not choose sin.

Consistent application of this godly wisdom produces a discerning mind (verse 5). The quality of an obedient, hearing heart makes it possible to live a discerning, faithful life. The Hebrew word for “counsel” means adroit steersmanship. The disciple gains a rudder for the ship of soul and a compass for the road of life as he practices godliness in all the applications of life. Such counsel is invaluable! The riddles and perplexities of life (verse 6) will be unraveled before the practiced eye in the clear light of Scripture. Trust and obey.