Sunday, August 28, 2011
Sermon for Christian Education Sunday (August 28, 2011)
“The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom” (Prov. 9:10)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy one is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10)
Yesterday and today the church commemorates two departed saints, Monica and Augustine. Monica was a devout Christian woman who lived in the 4th century in northern Africa. Her husband, Patritius, was a city official. However, he was not a Christian. He was also known to be short-tempered and not always faithful to his wife. Yet Monica's patience and sweet disposition ultimately served to soften her husband's heart. Monica's faithful example was instrumental in Patritius becoming a Christian not long before his death.
Monica and Patritius had three children. As a faithful Christian mother, she sought to bring her children to the waters of Holy Baptism. Patritius, however, would not consent. At one point, their oldest son Augustine became critically ill. Monica pleaded that her husband allow the boy to be baptized. Finally, he agreed. But when Augustine recovered, Patritius went back on his word. Nevertheless, it was Monica who prayed for her children and taught them the Christian faith.
Augustine grew up and studied rhetoric, the ancient art of persuasive speaking and teaching. Later on, he took up philosophy. His story sounds very contemporary in many ways: young man raised a Christian, mother more religious than his father, goes off to college, rebels against his upbringing, has a child out of wedlock, encounters challenges to the Christian faith in his studies, rejects the Christian faith. Eventually, in spite of all his studies and successes, Augustine came to recognize the emptiness of his life apart from God. In fact, one of Augustine's most famous quotes is this one: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Augustine repented of his sinful lifestyle and returned in faith toward the Lord Jesus. He was baptized by Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, with whom he had become acquainted. He became a priest and devoted himself to defending the Christian faith. Later on he was appointed bishop of Hippo, a city in his native region of north Africa. Today, Augustine is one of the most well-known and influential theologians in all of history.
Augustine sought wisdom in learning and philosophy. But he came to recognize the truth of what we heard in our text from Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy one is insight.” All of his worldly studies faded in comparison to the importance of studying the Bible and learning the truths about Jesus Christ revealed in God's Word.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy one is insight.” “Fear” here is not being afraid … although a person certainly should be terrified of God's wrath over sin. But simply being afraid of God is not a part of faith. Instead, the kind of “fear” meant in this verse is a reverent awe and a humble respect for God. This kind of “fear” includes faith, which doesn't cower in the corner, but comes boldly and confidently to the Father and asks for the good things that God has promised to those who trust in him. That's why Luther included these words at the beginning of each of his explanations to the commandments: “We should fear and love God, so that ...” For a Christian, fear and love go together. Children both respect and love their earthly fathers, as imperfect as they may be. In an even greater way, we both respect and love our perfect, holy, Heavenly Father. We give him thanks, with awe and reverence, for the awesome things he has done for us, especially for saving us by sending his Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, for raising him from the dead, for calling us to faith through the power of the Holy Spirit, for washing our sins away in Holy Baptism, and for nourishing our faith with Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It's the “beginning” because all things are from the Lord. All wisdom and knowledge come from him, and so we acknowledge this when we begin our studies in any subject matter.
A good education is valued highly in our country. We have a public school system in our country where every child has the opportunity to learn. Some families choose to teach their children in a homeschool environment, and there are growing networks to support their efforts. Then there are private schools, such as our own Zion Lutheran School, where people can send their children if they have the financial resources. We have community colleges and technical schools and universities where students can further their education in order to seek gainful employment after they graduate. Knowledge in a variety of subjects helps a person to be well-rounded. Math and music, chemistry and computer science, art and astronomy, reading and writing, engineering and economics, physics and phys-ed, drama and design, history and health … these are all important. God uses each of these disciplines so that our various needs are met. He puts each of us into various vocations so that we serve our neighbor with the trades we learn, the skills we hone, and the talents he gives. This is a good thing. This fall under God's First Article gifts.
But the highest and most important knowledge there is is to know the Triune God as he has revealed himself to us in the Holy Scriptures. We dare not neglect the study of God's Word simply because it has nothing to do with getting good grades or a good job. It is, however, about eternal life. Jesus once prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). When you know Jesus, then you know God, and you have eternal life. As important as the First Article gifts are – God's gifts of creation … they are secondary to his Second Article gifts – his gifts of salvation in his Son Jesus Christ. St. Paul went so far as to say, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:8-10).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” When we study the Bible and learn to know God, we gain true insight into the way things really are … not the way we imagine things are. This is what we call having a Biblical “worldview.” We learn the facts of the creation and the fall into sin, of God's promises to the patriarchs to send a Savior, of his preservation of the people of Israel to bring about the Savior. We learn about the foreshadowings of the Savior in the Old Testament … the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the Passover Lamb, and so on. We learn about the Law which condemns sin and about the Gospel which announces the forgiveness of sins because of Christ's death and resurrection. And the better we know the Scriptures, the better we know how to apply them to the struggles we face and the situations in which we find ourselves.
Today, on this Christian Education Sunday, give thanks for those who have taught God's Word to you … parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, youth leaders. Consider your involvement in the educational program here at Messiah … bringing your children to Sunday School, helping out with Sunday School, taking advantage of the opportunities we have to study the Bible together, recommitting yourself to reading the Bible as part of a regular devotional life. And remember Moses' words to the people of Israel, words that we can take to heart today: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6-7). God's Word is not just for Sunday. It's for every day of the week, for every Christian home, for every Christian heart. It's God's Word that feeds our faith. It's God's Word that gives us true wisdom.