Dr. Jonathon Barlow
September 18, 2023
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
This passage appears as the culmination of King Solomon’s invitation to wisdom that introduces the book of Proverbs. At his elevation to king of Israel, Solomon asked God not for long life or riches but for wisdom, the ability to discern good from evil while carrying out his mission (1 Kings 3:7-14). Unlike Adam and Eve, who presumed to grasp for the knowledge of good and evil, Solomon treated the knowledge required to rule as pure gift. Solomon’s heavenly Father delighted to fulfill his request, even as the Father delights when we ask for wisdom (James 1:5). The wisdom that Solomon received, and that we will receive if we ask, is a weighty and priceless gift. In fact, we learn that the wisdom God offers is the very wisdom by which He created and rules the earth (Proverbs 3:19, Job 38).
Two words in this passage require our careful attention – “fear” and “beginning.”
“Fear” of God refers to the worship and honor of God. Israel eventually falls because of her idolatry – because she “feared other gods” (2 Kings 17:7). Israel’s fall, like that of Adam and Eve, illustrates the foolish pattern by which sin takes hold: disloyalty to the true God leads to worship of self, the evil one, or of mute idols in whom there is neither wisdom nor knowledge. Conversely, true worship of the living God, in the Spirit, is the way true knowledge begins and is nourished within the Christian life. Let us wonder at the grace of God to hide wisdom in worship and rest rather than in striving and grasping!
“Beginning” with worship in search of knowledge has two aspects – both a commencement and a basis. We begin by drawing near in worship to the true God who calls us, and we continue on the basis of a life oriented towards honoring him in everything. Solomon describes this ongoing posture as acknowledging God “in all our ways” leading to his making our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Beginnings are exciting. The 50th year of the PCA coincided with the elaborate and glorious coronation of a new King of England. And yet we measure a monarch not only by the way in which a reign begins, but by a long horizon of daily faithfulness in office. The PCA rooted its founding in a firm commitment to Christian orthodoxy; to the inerrancy of the scriptures; to the great commission given to the church by Jesus; and to a reformed presbyterian model of theology, spirituality, and practice. Faithfully continuing to fulfill our founding mission requires an ongoing posture of worship of and humble dependence upon the living God.
As was true for Solomon, the PCA depends upon God’s gift of wisdom to discern how she should function in the ever-changing context of her mission in North America and around the world. In practice, this looks like a praying people, drawn by the power of the Spirit, asking the Father to continue his blessings, and giving thanks for the privilege of being co-laborers with Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
Dr. Jonathan Barlow serves as a ruling elder at Grace Presbyterian Church in Starkville, MS. He is Associate Director and an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Data Science Program at Mississippi State University.