The Lost Art of Wisdom

The Lost Art of Wisdom
Ecclesiastes 7:5-9
“It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.”

Who we listen to influences who we become.  Solomon returns us to traditional wisdom in his quest to find meaning and purpose in life.  While wisdom has its limitations, it still is to be pursued.  In verse 6, Solomon challenges us to examine those who influence us in our search for purpose and meaning in life.  He begins by reminding us that wisdom comes by listening to the wise man's rebuke rather than those who entertain us.  Just as we are naturally drawn to the house of feasting, we are attracted to the appeal of songs.  The appeal of the fool is through the medium of the song.  In other words, we are attracted to them because they speak what we want to hear.  Everyone enjoys music and dislikes a rebuke.  Music soothes the soul, while a rebuke brings agitation and conflict. Yet Solomon reminds us that truth and wisdom come through those who confront us with our folly.

This is a much-needed correction in our age of “social influencers,” where people gain popularity through social media. What makes “social influencers” so fashionable today is not because they share insight and challenge us to change but because they affirm what we want to hear.  They “validate” us rather than challenge us to change. Jeremiah warns us of people who claim to speak God’s word but ultimately only affirm what we want to hear when he writes, “But, ‘Ah Lord God!’ I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’”  Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name…”. In other words, the characteristic of a false prophet is that they deny the reality of judgment by legitimizing sin.  They promise salvation without the necessity of repentance.  They sing the song of the fool who laughs at the words of the wise and thinks that he is ignorant and foolish.  But in the end, they face the certainty of their judgment.

Even for the wise, there is the danger that we can be corrupted by the bribe of the fool (vs. 7).  If we are not careful, we can easily fall prey to the offer of prosperity, wealth, and pleasure. We listen to those who promise us what we desire.  In the end, we can be led astray.  In our pursuit of righteous wisdom, we must recognize our vulnerability to the appeal of false promises.  To be genuinely wise, we must admit our susceptibility to the illusion of wealth and prosperity.  We often choose wrongly when confronted with the option between wealth (vs. 7) and suffering (4).  Therefore, we must always focus on the end of the matter rather than the beginning (vs. 8).  This takes us back to the previous verses in which we are to find wisdom in the house of mourning.  Death reminds us what is essential. In death, wealth becomes meaningless.  Pride only sees life from the present context and the accomplishments and attainments that bring pleasure in the moment.  But one who has an eye upon the end of the matter recongize that the whole story is not known until the end of life.  We can only genuinely determine what is of value when we look at life in its totality.  This shifts our focus from the present to the eternal, from our earthly accomplishments to our eternal rewards.  The wise learn to have an eternal perspective.  Paul likewise reminds us of this when he challenges us to build upon only one foundation, which is Jesus Christ, for any other foundation proves worthless and will be consumed by fire (1 Cor. 3:10-14).  Thus, Solomon reminds us to examine who is influencing us.  We are to listen to those who point us to wisdom and life lived in obedience to God rather than listen to the songs of fools who focus on pursuing pleasure in the present.  We are to listen to those who point us to what has eternal significance rather than temporal satisfaction, for that is the only advice worth following.

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