Skilful Living - Part 4: Two Women, Who Is Calling?
The book of Proverbs might be called a tale of two women. Wisdom is a woman who calls out to us (1:20 and following, chapters 8-9). The adulterous woman also calls out (chapters 5, 7). The adulterous woman is also called folly (see 9:13-18). Wisdom and folly are personified as women throughout the book. See, for example, 14:1 – “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.”
As we think about wisdom and what it means to find it, we must be aware that both Lady Wisdom and the woman folly are always calling to us. We need to know who is calling. Both of these women promise the same things at the beginning – beauty and satisfaction. One brings life. The other is a dealer of death.
One of the things I appreciated about Peter Jackson’s movie presentation of The Lord of the Rings was his clear portrayal of the ugliness of evil (but, for the record, the books were better). In the movies, when you saw how ugly the bad guys were, you didn’t want to root for them because they were so hideous. Would that real life were so simple. The fact is, evil often comes to us as beautiful and appealing. Paul warns against false teachers coming, like Satan, as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). The beginning of temptation does not come with a sign that says, “Come and rebel against God, come and see how ugly and destructive sin can be!” Folly’s offer looks like honey and fine oil, but it leads to bitterness and death.
Sexual sin is deadly, and that is what folly is offering in some of these texts. However, I think we are meant to extend the metaphor to other areas of foolishness as well. Folly is the opposite of wisdom, so we are to be on guard for the voice of folly when it comes to other areas of temptation – drunkenness, gluttony, gossip, greed, anger, theft, abuse of authority and many other vices are on offer from Folly.
Compare the call of wisdom to the call of folly in chapter 9. Both women say, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here.” From wisdom, bread and wine are on offer. Folly calls in verses 15-17. Bread and water are on her menu. There is a parallel. Both women are calling. To whom are we going to listen?
When the offer is very similar, and it is made to the same audience (the simple), how can we determine who’s who? Who’s calling? This is where we need to cultivate wisdom. We gain wisdom from God’s Word, all of God’s Word. We can’t just get verses to make us wise, we must submit to God as we learn and apply God’s Word. We do this together in the church. That is God’s way to make us wise and holy.
In God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, we are set free from the demands and the condemnation of the law. We have Christian liberty. However, if we are on a quest for wisdom, we need to examine the things that fall under the category of this liberty and ask, “Will this thing help me to find wisdom.” We need to be on guard against decisions that will lead to harmful consequences for ourselves and others in our family and church family. In other words, we need to ask “who’s calling?”
There are countless examples in our everyday lives, but let must suggest a couple that might help us apply this question. Imagine you decide to stay up for most of a Saturday night watching movies. Are you free to do that? Of course. When you think of the particular movies and their messages, and you consider the condition you are likely to be in on Sunday, ask yourself, “What’s my motivation for this movie binge?” In other words, who’s calling – Lady Wisdom or the woman folly?
What about a major purchase – a house or a car, or even a vacation. We really do have freedom in this area and we have no business judging one another about these decisions. However, we need to ask ourselves why we want to do these things. Where are our hearts in these transactions? Remember,4:23 tells us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Where does the quest for wisdom fit in? In other word’s, you guessed it, who’s calling?
There will be times when we don’t know who’s calling, but asking the question is a good start. We have collective wisdom in the church. We may have wise saints in our families. We can ask one another for help if we aren’t sure who is calling for any life decisions that seem to be neutral or confusing. Most of all, we have the Word of God and the Spirit of God if we are in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2).
The last chapter in the book of Proverbs contains the famous passage regarding the excellent wife. I don’t think it’s wrong for Christian wives and mothers to seek to apply this text, but we all need to remember the two women that we meet throughout the book. If we take to heart the call of wisdom in Proverbs, this epilogue could be about us – whether we are a man or woman, married or single. As Christians, we are Christ’s bride. Our delight should be pleasing our Lord and Master. As we pursue wisdom, we should desire to be productive and useful in our generation to God’s Glory as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.